After the March on Washington, and after President Obama’s attempt to top the speech, there’s one thing that stood out to me about his speech that elevated it above all the others.
He mentioned us all.
Obama was as inclusive in his speech as the modern fight for equality and justice is in our 21st-century America.
More than any soaring rhetoric, that’s all I needed to feel good about his vision as we start year 51.
That it included all of us.
I admit as the speakers came on (at least, the ones that weren’t interrupted by network commentators), I started to worry. I didn’t hear a lot about diversity from the speakers.
So many would begin what I call the “litany of the peoples,” and start strong like they would mention all of us.
But after saying the word “African-American” or “Latino,” most speakers stopped.
That’s it. C’est tout.
The fight was for no one else, it seemed. Or at least, they weren’t worth mentioning the rest of us.
Understood? A little specificity goes a long way.
Before the president, only Congressman John Lewis was so inclusive to say: “We may have come here on different ships, but we are all in the same boat now. So it doesn’t matter if we’re Black or White, Latinos, Asian-Americans or Native American, gay or straight, we are one people, we are one family, we all live in the same house. Not just an American house but the world house.”
I could count on Lewis to not forget. The oldest living speaker from the march 50 years ago, Lewis has never forgotten all of us.
But would Obama?
The president was pretty clear about how it included all of us, by linking us to the marchers of 50 years ago.
And then he delivered.
Said the president: “Because they marched, America became more free and more fair — not just for African-Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans; for Catholics Jews and Muslims, for gays, for Americans with a disability. America changed for you and for me, and the entire world drew strength from that example.”
It’s a mouthful. But it was necessary.
Indeed, it was what I found to be the most instructive part of his speech because he talked about empathy, where the native born recognizes the immigrant. Where interracial couples connect with same-sex couples.
“That’s where courage comes from,” said the president, “when we turn not from each other, or on each other, but towards one another, and we find we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from. … And with that courage, we can stand together.”
It may not have been the greatest, most passionate speech Obama ever delivered. (There was no Mahalia Jackson to prod him on).
But the speech was inclusive enough to usher in year 51, and the new fight for diversity under Civil Rights 2.0,
Emil Guillermo is an award-winning writer for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.