- Aug 28, 2015
President Obama delivers the commencement address to the 2016 graduating class of Howard University in Washington on May 7, 2016. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
When he gave the commencement address recently at Howard University, President Obama spoke about race and the interests of African Americans in the United States. While exhorting students to “be confident in your blackness,” Obama also challenged them to “question the world as it is” and “stand up for those African Americans who haven’t been so lucky [as you are].”
The address received broad news coverage, in no small part because it went against the conventional wisdom that, throughout his presidency, Obama has largely declined to speak to the interests of black Americans. Indeed, black activists, public intellectuals and political scientists have taken Obama to task for ignoring African American concerns to maintain his standing among white voters.
But is this conventional wisdom true? No. Our investigation of presidential rhetoric shows that Obama has paid more attention to black interests than any other president since Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964.