President Obama's remarks at the 100th Anniversary of the Urban League today focused mainly on improving education for minority students through structural change, but he also addressed the Shirley Sherrod controversy of the past two weeks, a series of events that catapulted questions of race and media bias into the national spotlight.
Despite the efforts of groups like the Urban League to help African-American communities, Obama said, "We were reminded this past week that we've still got work to do when it comes to promoting the values of fairness and equality and mutual understanding that must bind us together as a nation."
He did not blame particular people or parties for worsening the controversy, in which a conservative activist posted out-of-context excerpts from a speech Sherrod, a former USDA employee, gave before a local NAACP chapter to make it sound like she practiced racial discrimination, thus leading the USDA to fire her.
Obama did, however, indirectly condemn the actions of the media, as well as the federal government, calling the affair a "bogus controversy based on selective and deceiving excerpts of a speech," and adding that "many are to blame for the reaction and overreaction that followed these comments including my own administration."
While the president has repeatedly shied away from becoming the face of a national discussion about race, he did today express the need for such conversations to take place.
"We should all make more of an effort to discuss with one another in a truthful and mature and responsible way the divides that still exist" between races, Obama said, adding that such discourse should take place "not on cable TV, not just through a bunch of academic symposia and fancy commissions or panels, not through political posturing, but around kitchen tables and water coolers and church basements and in our schools and with our kids all across the country.
"If we can have that conversation in our lives then we can take an opportunity to learn from our imperfections and our mistakes to grow as individuals and as a country," Obama added.