The President's message was far more nuanced -- and far more reflective of mainstream black opinion -- than media narratives about race ever seem to acknowledge: that while black people still feel the sting of racism, none of us see ourselves as victims incapable of improving our circumstances. Obama wasn't wagging his finger. When he said that "all these innovative programs and expanded opportunities will not, in and of themselves, make a difference if each of us, as parents and as community leaders, fail to do our part by encouraging excellence in our children," he was stating the obvious. That's why everyone cheered. But if the President actually believed that all that was required was a stronger grip on our bootstraps, he wouldn't be pushing health care reform.
The dominant storyline from the NAACP speech is "no excuses," because that message makes so many Americans feel as though their obligations to deal with intolerance and bigotry have been met, because it soothes the white guilt of those who would like to prefer not to see black problems as "American problems." But if that's all people took away from the president's speech, they simply weren't listening.