Wednesday, March 19, 2008
5244: The Obama Speech.
From The Chicago Sun-Times…
A moving moment in our nation’s history
Are we listening, America? On Tuesday morning, Barack Obama delivered the speech of his life about the most divisive issue in America in this day or any day -- race. He spoke for millions of Americans of good will and open minds -- Americans who have struggled to find just these words -- challenging us to heal our painful racial wounds by first admitting the deep roots, complexities and truths of our grievances. The grievances of black America are not imaginary, he said. And the anger and frustrations within segments of the white community cannot always be dismissed as bigotry.
Speaking to white Americans, Obama said, “The path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people.”
But speaking to African Americans, Obama had this to say about resentful white people: “When they are told to bus their children to a school across town, when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job … when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.”
Until all of us come to understand this more tangled truth about race in America and “work through” it, as Obama said, we will never seriously take on the great problems that trouble us all.
“If we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners,” Obama said, “we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education or the need to find good jobs for every American.”
In the last two weeks, issues arose on the campaign trail that threatened to recast Obama as “the black candidate” rather than as a candidate who happens to be black (and white, for that matter). Most alarming were the indisputably objectionable remarks of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Race moved to centerstage and was seized on by some to confuse and divide us. So Obama, in that exceptional way he has of brushing aside polemics, stepped up to a podium in Philadelphia and challenged us to see all the shades of gray, to embrace our greater and shared humanity.
It was a moving moment in American history to hear a man who could be president dissect the rancorous matter of race with such candor, and it called to mind other piercing addresses by the likes of FDR, Kennedy and King.
Obama’s speech won’t sway everybody -- within two hours Rush Limbaugh was sneering that Rodney King said it just as well with “Why can’t we all just get along.” But among those Americans who sincerely yearn for relief from the divisive and diversionary politics of the last couple of decades, this was a speech to move the head and heart.
Running for president inevitably is an act of self-revelation, and with this speech Obama peeled off many more layers and revealed something close to his true essence. He is the man in the middle, bi-racial and bi-cultural, inclined by both nurture and nature to understand if not always forgive both sides. He rightly denounced the many offensive comments by Rev. Wright, yet he refused to disown Wright or his overall message of self-determination.
“I can no longer disown him than I can disown the black community,” Obama said. “I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother, a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me … who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”
What American does not see his own family and community -- and perhaps himself -- in that confession?
Obama on Tuesday spoke to our better angels.
And maybe America moved a little.