Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama on Race in America

Mitt Romney was forced to talk about religion; I suppose it was inevitable that Barack Obama would have to talk about race.

It was an interesting, and powerful speech. I didn't get to hear all of it but, after reading the whole of it on Senator Obama's campaign website I've got to say, I'm impressed. I'm beginning to better understand why people are being inspired by him. Many pundits have tried to demean the idea of Obama as an inspirational speaker, saying there is no substance behind him. I think we need to quit being ashamed of being inspired. What is a national leader if not someone who can inspire us, as American citizens, to better action?

I believe that this speech was a direct result of attacks on Obama's character because he attended a church run by Reverend Jeremiah Wright, no stranger to controversial speeches. Reverend Wright has been, as Obama freely admits, a "fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy" to say the least.

What I love about Obama's speech is that he doesn't side step the issue. He doesn't try to dismiss his relationship with Reverend Wright. He certainly tells us that He doesn't always agree with Reverend Wright, and that some of the comments the Reverend said across the pulpit bothered him. But Obama also tells us about the things that kept him in the pews.

It's funny. He talked about race, but he really talked about religion, too. And he did in a way that drives home one of the messages Senator Obama seems to be trying to give us: strength as united Americans, all the while celebrating our diversity.

Here's an example from the speech, where Obama talks about Reverend Wright:

"But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

"As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all."

There it is. I've said this a hundred times to just as many people. Race is not the issue. It provides a back drop to the real issues, but it's not the issue. Economics, health care, foreign policy - yes. Not race. Race doesn't matter. The only point where race matters is where people continue to buy into ethnic stereotypes, including the very people are stereotyped by them.

There is an entire sociology tied to poverty and the other economic factors that have been created by racial prejudice. To ignore that is to ignore the history of this nation. But, it doesn't have to stay that way. We all want to be able to create the best lives for ourselves and our families. We all can take advantage of the opportunities afforded us, and quit buying into the parts of our personal histories that tie us down. We have a choice to work, and move forward, or flounder and die. Once we can accept that fact, we can move on to what the best solutions to those problems will be.

"Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding. "

Let me leave you now with another quote from Obama's speech.

"This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

"But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union."

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