President Obama delivered on Wednesday a speech in commemoration of the fifty-year anniversary of the March on Washington. Some have lauded the successes of the movement, while others have reflected on its shortcomings. Ultimately, in any polarized discussion, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Although he himself does not harp on it, it is impossible not to pause over the powerful symbolism of President Barack Obama presented before us. When he speaks of interracial marriage, it is difficult not to think of Obama himself, the product of a black father and a white mother. When he says that the White House has changed, it bears a force that can only come from the first black President. Could King even dream that such an event would happen so soon after he stood at those steps?

President Obama is right to refute that little has changed. Take a look at the list of recognizable names in attendance Wednesday. That Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker, and Jamie Foxx are even household names speaks volumes. That demonstrations primarily composed of African Americans can take place without getting hosed down speaks volumes. That I can sit between an elderly white woman and a young black man on the train speaks volumes. There are literally volumes lining the walls at local bookshops on the progress of the Civil Rights Movement, but just what does that mean?

“It’s not about the few…but the many,” says Obama. Watching him speak with the Seal of the President before him, one must not forget that he is one of the few. That this one glass ceiling has been broken by this one mere mortal does not mean that discrimination is dead. Far from it. Many a minority persists, in race and in gender and in sexuality and in ability. Many may not want the presidency, but many more lack the opportunity to refuse it.

What of “those who could have run a company”? Many of those live and breathe today, yet they do not run companies. 70% of executive team membership and 68% of corporate board membership in the Fortune 500 are comprised of white males. Women and racial minorities remain underrepresented in an era many are eager to call post-racial.

The politics of race remains partisan. On Wednesday, we heard from not one but three presidents, quite an improvement over the zero on the program in 1963. Yet Carter, Clinton, and Obama are all Democrats. Both Bushes, the only living Republicans to hold the presidency, were unable to make it due to health issues. If you’re a liberal who’s already uttered some sort of curse upon them for not attending, I’d like for you to take it back. George Bush Jr. and Sr. are both individuals, mere mortals. We need quality and quantity. We need to cultivate a public sphere where minorities are not born into some sliver of the political spectrum.

I challenge some of the progress that our dear President claims. He speaks of the victories of “securing of civil rights, voting rights, the eradication of legalized discrimination” but is that not premature? Yes, we have made progress, and substantial progress at that. If we claim this to be an absolute truth, however, Obama today was no better than George W. Bush standing in front of a Mission Accomplished banner on May 1st, 2003. His government stands by as Florida courts and New York cops confirm the criminality of colored skin. Moreover, it is agents of that same government that racialize “reasonable suspicion” in our public airports and our private correspondences.

All men are not created equal. We are not born into equal circumstances, that is. Simply because the principles of equality have been written does not mean that they are actualized. President Obama intelligently echoes Dr. King in asking, “For what does it profit a man…to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he can’t afford the meal?” Unemployment may be lower than it was fifty years ago, but unemployment for blacks remains double that of whites (just as it was then).

The “pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails” is not so much a metaphor as it is a harsh reality. If education in America always speaks of reform, then why does it continue to fail those who need it most? There are test-obsessed schools serving a majority of minorities that deprive their students a Social Studies curriculum. What does it say about the vitality of our democracy that civic empowerment is considered a luxury?

Ultimately, Obama tells us the touching tales of Americans who are figuratively marching in their everyday lives. “He’s marching!” he tells us. “She’s marching!” Yet the speech sounds too much like “a lesson of our past” and not enough like “the promise of tomorrow.” Professor Obama is near and dear to my heart, but he is our Commander in Chief and we need our marching orders. We need him to inspire us. We need him to mobilize us. We need him to tell us, outright and irresistibly, to march.

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