Obama’s speech: A more perfect union

Barack Obama’s speech in Philadelphia yesterday (full text and video of the speech) was an historic moment, the most direct attention to race and racism from any major Presidential candidate. Speaking in the way he did was an intelligent, courageous, and moral act in an atmosphere of sound bites and back-biting. I don’t know whether it helps or hurts his campaign, but it should help the country.

I saw three main points in the speech, with my comments in brackets:

  1. “Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.” [Prejudices against those who speak different languages, profess different religions, have different values, or simply look different, are a major problem. However, the legacy of slavery, segregation, and continuing discrimination against Blacks has made that form of racism a defining feature of US history. It’s our biggest challenge, one no other country faces in the same way.]
  2. “Not this time.” [Racism in its historical forms not only continues to undermine our best impulses; it spreads and poisons other issues such as how we address immigration or how we interact with other countries. We need to move the discourse forward this time, to transcend race in a deep way, if we are ever to form “a more perfect union.”]
  3. “We cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together.” [We can’t do #2 if we don’t address #1.]

Some people express what they know about the pernicious effects of racism in ways that are divisive or factually wrong. In so doing, they fuel the very ignorance and hatred that underly racism. By not acknowledging the possibility of change, they effectively block it. That was Obama’s response to some of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s comments.

Others ask, “why not just be color blind?”, essentially ignoring the reality of racism. In response to that, Obama said that race is an issue; we need to work to make it not so, but that requires understanding and facing it.

Obama’s speech wasn’t a scholarly critique, but he managed to show for those ready to listen why we need to understand and confront racism. Only then can we work together to build a different kind of society, and bring the focus to issues such as education, health care, and the economy.

2 thoughts on “Obama’s speech: A more perfect union

  1. Yes, sad and tragic. I see Obama as trapped in the very racism he’s trying to have us confront. If he embraces what his pastor says about racism and the pain it causes, he becomes “divisive” and unelectable. If he rejects it, he denies not only his own family and history, but the moral issues that the pastor has raised. I feared that he would totally disassociate, so I was pleased when he tried to say that racism matters, but that we needed to see and find a way forward.

    I don’t think there’s a perfect action in this context, but was impressed with what he attempted as a mainstream politician.

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  2. To a large extent I agree with you; but in this last week of Lent I cannot avoid thinking of Peter denying Jesus and feeling his disassociation from his pastor (probably necessary if he is to hang on) is sad and tragic and potentially worrisome.

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