Speaking at the NAACP's 100th Anniversary dinner, President Barack Obama said that overall there's less discrimination in America today, but warned to not be tempted to think that discrimination is no longer a problem.
"Make no mistake: the pain of discrimination is still felt in America," the first African American president told the nation's oldest civil rights group at their annual dinner in New York City. "By African-American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and gender. By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country. By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion for simply kneeling down to pray to their god. By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights.
Obama said the new barriers – of an economic crisis, health care costs, the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and imprisonment – are all things that crush all races but particularly the African American race by higher numbers.
"These are some of the barriers of our time," Obama said. "They're very different from the barriers faced by earlier generations. They're very different from the ones faced when fire hoses and dogs were being turned on young marchers; when Charles Hamilton Houston and a group of young Howard lawyers were dismantling segregation."
The president said these barriers can be solved by structural changes in community and government – such as the need for a world-class education system that he said is still being deferred around the country.
"African-American students are lagging behind white classmates in reading and math – an achievement gap that is growing in states that once led the way on civil rights. Over half of all African-American students are dropping out of school in some places. There are overcrowded classrooms, crumbling schools, and corridors of shame in America filled with poor children – black, brown, and white alike."
Obama said that the state of schools is an American problem, not just an African-American problem and referenced an odd-couple team that has lobbied the president on education reform.
"And if Al Sharpton, Mike Bloomberg, and Newt Gingrich can agree that we need to solve it, then all of us can agree on that," Obama said, laughing and recalling their visit to the White House. "Those guys came into the Oval Office. I was sitting in the oval office. Kept on doing a double take. That's a sign of progress and a sign of the urgency of the education problem."
Much of the president's remarks were not only focused on the need for governmental structural reform, but also reform individually, within families, and within communities -- a tough-love emphasis that he's spoke about in the past.
"Government programs alone won't get our children to the promised land. We need a new mindset, a new set of attitudes – because one of the most durable and destructive legacies of discrimination is the way that we have internalized a sense of limitation; how so many in our community have come to expect so little of ourselves."