President Obama and Citizenship…

by Courtney | January 12, 2017

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-11-57-43-pmSeriously. I’ve been a bit out of touch taking care of an ill relative, but I finally got the chance to watch Obama’s Farewell Address…  (you can and, if you haven’t already, definitely should watch the whole thing here. Damn.

I’ve been thinking nonstop about the relationship between school integration, parenting and citizenship. I haven’t made the time to organize my thoughts on this yet, but Obama helped. I’ve pulled out some quotes from his speech (but again, for real, listen to the whole speech). He talks beautifully about equality and the uplifting of all Americans, but he also gives us homework. It isn’t just kumbaya words, it’s action. And it isn’t just action that others should take, it’s our own. It’s getting out of bubbles, it’s taking a good, hard look at our choices, it’s looking in the mirror and holding ourselves accountable to living up to the best of what America could be. Being a citizen – and I mean this in the broadest sense that have nothing to do with documentation or lack thereof – is a job with responsibilities. Like parenting.


Enough of me. Here’s President Obama:

“We are going to have to forge a new social compact to guarantee all our kids the education they need.

..We can argue about how to best achieve these goals. But we can’t be complacent about the goals themselves. For if we don’t create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.

…If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.

…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. That is what our Constitution and highest ideals require.

But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. It won’t change overnight. Social attitudes oftentimes take generations to change. But if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

…So regardless of the station we occupy; we all have to try harder; we all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.

And that’s not easy to do. For too many of us it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods, or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. In the rise of naked partisanship and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste, all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.

…But remember, none of this happens on its own. All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.

…Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. We, the people, give it meaning — with our participation, and with the choices that we make and the alliances that we forge.

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