President Obama: Talk of a Post-Racial America Not Realistic

In an emotional farewell address, Obama discussed American values and race in the U.S., and gave a tribute to his wife and daughters.


The hashtag #ObamaFarewell trended on Twitter Tuesday night as the first African American president of the United States, Barack Obama, gave his final speech to the country. Obama pressed Americans to reject discrimination and stand up for U.S. values during the presidency of Donald Trump.

Coming full circle to his hometown of Chicago, where he announced his candidacy and celebrated his election in 2008, Obama spoke about the state of race relations in America.

Race Remains Divisive Force 

“After my election there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic,” Obama said before an audience of 18,000 and millions more watching at home. “Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.

“Now I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say.

“You can see it not just in statistics. You see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum. But we’re not where we need to be. And all of us have more work to do.

“If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.

“So if we’re going to be serious about race going forward, we need to uphold laws against discrimination — in hiring, and in housing, and in education, and in the criminal justice system.”

Obama made criminal justice reform a major platform during his presidency. He has commuted the sentences of 1,176 federal prisoners, the White House said, as part of a push to reduce the number of people serving long sentences for non-violent drug offenses.

“Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s”

“But laws alone won’t be enough,” the president said. “Hearts must change.”

He continued, “For Blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face.

“Not only the refugee or the immigrant or the rural poor or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change.”

In the November election, president-elect Trump won in part by appealing to working-class white men.

Obama continued, “For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our founders promised.”

He then addressed stereotypes regarding immigrants.

“For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians, and Poles, who it was said were going to destroy the fundamental character of America,” he said.

“And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened.”

The president, who recently said he “absolutely” experienced racism while in office, has received both praise and criticism for his approach to addressing issues of race in the U.S. Though his approval rating among Blacks has been exceedingly high throughout his presidency, some Blacks think he has not been supportive enough of the Black community.

Writer Ta-neshi Coates, who penned the essay “My President Was Black,” argues Obama’s presidency became a symbol of “extraordinary Americanness.”

“Against the specter of Black pathology, against the narrow images of welfare moms and deadbeat dads, his time in the White House had been an eight-year showcase of a healthy and successful Black family spanning three generations, with two dogs to boot. In short, he became a symbol of Black people’s everyday, extraordinary Americanness,” Coates wrote.

But what cannot be disputed is no one else in the U.S. has ever walked the path Obama has taken, an African American man chosen to lead a nation where less than 200 years ago he would have been enslaved. He had an unprecedented presidency, and a task to unite all citizens in a country with an extensive history of racism.

Tribute to the First Lady, Sasha and Malia

During his speech, Obama wiped his eyes as he addressed his wife.

“Michelle LaVaughn Robinson of the South Side,” he began, “for the past 25 years you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend.”

The Obama’s eldest daughter, Malia, wiped away tears with a tissue as she listened to her father.

“Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women, smart and beautiful, but more importantly, kind and thoughtful and full of passion,” Obama said. “You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I’ve done in my life, I’m most proud to be your dad.”

Sasha was not present during the speech as she stayed back in Washington, D.C., due to a school exam in the morning, a White House official told reporters.

In his farewell speech, Obama also made clear his positions had not changed and said his efforts to end the use of torture and close the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were part of a broader move to uphold U.S. values.

“That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans,” he said in a clear reference to Trump that drew applause.

The president said, “Just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.”

In addition, he added that strong action was needed to fight global warming and said “science and reason” mattered.

At 10:30 p.m. ET, the first lady tweeted a response to her husband’s speech:

Watch President Obama’s Farewell Address

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

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  • That’s the way you go out! Showing class, bravery, humility, and the intelligence that got you through 8 of the toughest years any president has had. Continue to be an example for all men and people to follow.


  • Charity Dell

    I will miss our president. I will miss that stirring, soaring oratory that seems to give flight to our own best hopes and inspires us to do and be more. We are not likely to get anyone of that caliber any time soon. I look forward to seeing
    how Barack Obama will channel his energies into the vocation of life known as “citizen”. It may be that his
    greatest contributions to American life are yet to come! He and Michelle have been able to inspire countless young
    people and adults to get involved and make a difference. His greatest legacy may not be what he was able to accomplish
    via legislation; legislation can be appealed, overturned and replaced. His greatest legacy was being established when
    he bent over to allow a little black boy to touch his hair, so the child could see that YES, the president was “just like me.”
    What Barack Obama symbolized–the first person of color elected to the office of the President–was more powerful
    and ultimately more threatening to the racist establishment than the Affordable Care Act. The little boy who felt his
    president’s African hair carries the true legacy of Barack Obama–the legacy of self-empowerment and the strength
    to chase his dreams with “the audacity of hope.”

  • Greg Thrasher

    Go away President Obama …. Many tire of your shallow posturing on RACE . . I am not interested in your laments on RACE when Black Activists sought your focus on Black America you dismissed us and vomited out nonsense about being the POTUS of all Americans as if Black Americans are not America


  • Reading the comments here, wonder if I’m thinking of the wrong speech. Class, bravery, integrity, soaring oratory, hard act to follow?

    Hard act to follow if one is a Democrat seeking political office, anyways. Was pleasantly amazed to recently hear of former Clinton sycophant Stephanopoulos finally asking Obama, during a farewell interview, something about how, despite Obama’s personal popularity, Democrats have lost about 1000 state and national elected positions in the last 6 years or so, and if Obama felt any responsibility for that? Obama found himself blameless, of course. He rarely accepts any responsibility for anything that doesn’t come up roses. But ain’t it something of a Bradley effect, people possibly lying to the opinion pollsters to prove the total absence of even the merest sniff of racism, claiming that they feel Obama is the best ever, but enough of them disappointed enough with the concrete results of Obama’s actions and policies to half kill the party that’s tasked with actually inflicting Obama’s “fundamental transformation” upon America? Good bye and good riddance, many of us seem to be saying.

    At least, in this speech, he only referred to himself at the rate of about 75 times per hour. Usually he’s well over a hundred.

  • He also paid tribute to all his people who helped him over the past eight years. A beautiful family, two great role Models for male and females. An incredible journey. Thank you for the work you did for the American People, America was always a great place, great people and was never divided. God Bless America. No other couple coming in the White House would be able to match the Obamas, No other President will be able to fit into his shoes. Americans choose a dishonest businessman to destroy the legacy of a man that came to the white house with respect and left with dignity. 2016 Election will never be forgotten, we heard nothing of value from the President elect, a three times married man, an empty vessel, and a man who disrespect women “hold them by the pussy” his words is this what we are putting in the White House with a former nude pinup? Americans you made a mistake and you made a choice. Its a free nation, Leadership and management are two different subjects. The President elect does not have what it takes to represent the American people. Its a great place and will remain a great nation.

  • I never thought I would live long enough to see America elect an African-American President. I thank God that we did, and that he and his family turned out to be such outstanding human beings. However, I never fooled myself that we had entered a “post-racial” era. If anything, President Obama’s campaign and election brought so many racists out of the woodwork that we received a truly-humbling reminder that — regardless of how far we’ve come — we still have a long way to go.

  • Diversity goes nowhere until people gain a better understanding of the political process. Medger Evers in 1963 and chaney goodman schwernere in 1964 (inspiration for movie Mississippi Burning) gave their lives helping the disenfranchised in the South register to vote. Many thought they did their job in by voting twice 2008/2012 then sat back and criticized the Afro-American President that didn’t find them a job. Meanwhile clever GOP gerrymandering of election districts negated a 3 million popular vote deficit. You still have to explain to Bilennials what the ‘big deal’ is requiring an ID to vote. They don’t realize that the same ‘States Rights’ clause that was removed from the 1964 Voting Rights Act before it was renewed in 2014, permitted Jim Crow Segregation laws. 39 states rushed to implement Voter restriction laws. Speeches about Diversity without knowing the process to affect change re meaningless

  • To Greg Thrasher RE:” Go away President Obama …. Many tire of your shallow posturing on RACE . . I am not interested in your laments on RACE when Black Activists sought your focus on Black America you dismissed us and vomited out nonsense about being the POTUS of all Americans as if Black Americans are not America BLM”

    What is more ignorant than the BLM position that the people that do acts of gun violence in our own communities, people that we see EVERY day but wouldn’t dare take a picture of them shooting someone, is somehow a different issue. Our communities have been conned and held hostage by a criminal element that tells our children that going to school and emphasizing their education in order to improve their future prospects is ‘acting white’. I used to defend them as discouraged and lost. But I see men recruiting the young to ‘work the corner’ the same way in the 1960’s I saw Afro American Heroin dealers recruiting 13 year old Afro-American kids to sell heroin to their Afro-American friends and peers and then call it ‘the system’ oppressing them. Parasites have no honor but to promote themselves. In my city I saw a 20 year old that had put a 45 automatic in my face to steal what I had in my pockets a few months before, in a BLM march to protest the police. Yes President Obama HAD to be the President for ALL America. It was OUR political ignorance that failed HIM. 21 Congressman that supported Obama’s policies were targeted and lost seats to Tea Party Candidates in the 2010 Mid term elections. Once he lost Congress, he did what he could but still the ignorant stayed home (barely 30% of registered voters actually bother to vote in my NYS). So-called ‘Black Activists blog and give each other awards for blogging. They criticize a Rev Jackson or Julian Bond or Carl LEwis who actually saw blood being spilled, some ot it their own. Sometimes I think the heck with the young they have the country that they deserve..ignorant telling each other how to solve a problem bit not having a clue how to do it except talk.

  • As a college- educated African American female, unlike Ta-Nesha and other low-class, politically vacuous AmeriKKKans, I would have titled O’Bama’s farewell speech “Good Riddance! Another good title would have been “Race Talk: Too Little- Too Late.”

    Like a true half-white Uncle Tom, he’s telling Blacks to TIE [read: MORE CHAINS] our struggles to others. Why didn’t he tell racist corporations owned by his white contributors to HIRE Blacks when he was in office. Every time Blacks tied out struggles with others, these white racists used us and WE came out with NOTHING!

    Harvard Law needs to rescind his degree because he is ignorant of basic historical facts. The British, Germans, Poles, Italians, Jamaicans, etc. dumped and sent their poor white/black immigrant, ignorant, retarded, debt-ridden, lazy, CRIMINALLY INSANE trash to America (Texas and Georgia began as Penal colonies like Australia). We got THUGS imported like Meyer LanSKY, Bugsy Seigel, Al Capone and later a military, lying “weapons of mass destruction” Colon Powell! All the other white “Deliverance” hillbillies spread across AmeriKKKa, and centuries later became Obamanation and tRUMP supporters. He’s so damned whitewashed in his thinking that he doesn’t know that the only “NATIVE BORN AMERICANS” are still NATIVE AMERICANS! The racist whites dumped just as many ANCHOR BABIES! The stereotype of “white, dumb, criminally-minded trash and thugs by the native-born Indians have proven true and correct. They resisted “TYING” themselves to these WHITE THUGS and still were forced on reservations! Black folKKKs were forcibly CHAINED/TIED to these white racist slave masters for over 250 years. Being TIED to the LGBTQ community is the same as being CHAINED to any white perverted, racist slavemaster.

    Kudos to Malia for her righteous veiled PROTEST against her unrighteous, pretentious, money-grubbing, Black oppressive parents. I’m glad she’s politically astute and refused to stand with this SHAM! There’s hope for one Obama- I’d get a name change of I had a perverted pappy and mammy who maliciously and intentionally helped white racists to destroy African everywhere.

  • Thanks be to God. I am blessed to have been fortified with 8 years of intelligence, professionalism, humility, resilience, and presidential elegance. Even in the face of constant, institutional resistance. Come what may – ignorance, incompetence, divisive, selfish arrogance – whatever. I can handle it because I now know what excellence looks like.

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