My fellow Americans, let me begin with an apology. I have been promising a speech on the topic of race relations, because I kept reading newspaper columns about how we never hear any discussion of racial issues, and my advisers told me that it would be very brave for me to give such a speech. I recognize now that this is a lot of nonsense, and I have changed my reading habits and fired those advisers.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan urged years ago that race relations in this country could benefit most from a period of “benign neglect.” He was criticized for saying so, but he was right. When it comes to quantity, we have plenty of discussion of racial issues. Rather, it’s quality that the discussion lacks.
So let me make just three brief points today, and then let’s all just shut up.
First, race relations in this country are good, have never been better, and are improving. We should all be happy and proud of that. America has made enormous progress in a very short period of time. Not so very long ago we had government-enforced, official, institutionalized racism in large parts of this country. But such systematic discrimination no longer exists. Not only are our public schools not segregated, but they teach that it is wrong to discriminate on account of race. That’s true of our popular culture as well. If you’re a screenwriter and you want the audience to know it is supposed to dislike a character, you have him say something bigoted.
We have passed laws, and we enforce those laws, making it illegal for governments to discriminate, and for private parties to do so as well, in virtually every public transaction: voting, employment, public accommodations, contracting, housing, credit, you name it. It is no longer socially acceptable to be a racist. There has never been less discrimination in more areas than there is now.
There are those who will say that I am “in denial.” No. It is those who refuse to recognize the progress that has been made who are in denial. Does this mean that there is no longer any racism or discrimination? Of course not. And this is my second point.
There is still racism in America, and there is still discrimination. The fact is, there will always be some discrimination. But there is less and less of it, especially among younger people. And the old racists, of all colors, will eventually die off.