President Obama on His Presidency and Racial Justice: "We Plant Seeds"

During a press conference in Poland over the weekend, President Obama was asked to address what he imagined his legacy would be on racial justice. He said he will leave that to the historians, but answered by saying what he has tried to do.

I do want to leave legacy questions to the history books, but what I can do—maybe this is a fair response to your question—is to say how I've tried to lead the country on this issue.

More than anything, what I hope is that my voice has tried to get all of us, as Americans, to understand the difficult legacy of race; to encourage people to listen to each other; to recognize that the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and discrimination didn't suddenly vanish with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, or the Voting Rights Act, or the election of Barack Obama; that things have gotten better, substantially better, but that we've still got a lot more work to do.

And that, as was the case with the police task force, that we set up, that I've tried to encourage people to come up with practical, concrete solutions that can reduce, if not eliminate, the problems of racial bias.

And if—if my voice has been true, and positive, then my hope would be that it may not fix everything right away, but it surfaces problems; it frames them; it allows us to wrestle with these issues, and try to come up with practical solutions, and that that perspective may lead to continued improvement, so that not just Malia and Sasha, but their children, can experience a country that is more just and more united and more equal.

And that's not gonna happen right away. And that's okay. You know, we plant seeds, and somebody else maybe sits under the shade of the tree that we planted.

And I—I'd like to think that, as best as I could, I have been true in speaking about these issues.
As I said at BNR: "It is, of course, one of the bitterest circumstances of President Obama's presidency that systemic and relentlessly expressed racism has created enormous difficulties for him in being able to speak as frankly and passionately about racial injustice as he certainly would have liked. But he has planted seeds. In the shade of whose emergent trees others will sit one day."

image of a teaspoon with a baby tree growing out of a bit of dirt sitting in the hollow of the spoon

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