blueollie

Obama’s Speech on Race. My contribution to the dialogue.

The full text (as prepared) can be found here, or the delivered speech (?) can be found here. I’ll post a youtube version when it becomes available. The CNN video of 2 minutes of it is here.

Update

(30 some-odd minutes)

Note: this was his speech; HE wrote it.

Here are my thoughts:

1. The speech gave a broad outline, gave some history, and presented many different aspects of the problems of race in our society. At the same time, he spoke of the very real injustices that African Americans face without getting into a “blame whitey” mode.

2. He talked about real concerns that working class White people have and pointed out that these concerns are not simply bigotry but real and valid concerns; of course he did point out that some do exploit these concerns for their own gain.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So 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 or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

3. At the same time, he did NOT throw his long time pastor under the bus; he mentioned that his White grandmother loved him but had her prejudices too. The same goes for his pastor. I loved this part of his speech; after all, all of us have character flaws, and many of our friends and loved ones have imperfections that we wish that they didn’t have, and all of us, from time to time, have said stupid things.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. 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, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

4. He gave a very elegant characterization of how counterproductive stuff can have a root in a legacy of injustice (e. g., real anger from real injustices may lead to inappropriate things being said).

The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

5. He also pointed out that these issues are being talked about, but mostly “not in mixed company”.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

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.

6. He points out that one of the biggest differences between what he believes and some of the more divisive things that Rev. Wright said is that he (BHO) sees America as basically good and capable of changing for the better; the older school Black preachers were much more pessimistic.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

7. But he continues to point out that the issues of racism are real and not imaginary:

In the white community, 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; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

The Daily Kos has several threads on this speech: thread one, thread two, thread three, thread four.

What I think: will the speech help him?

I honestly don’t know. But I’ll say this: I loved the speech; this summed up why he is the first presidential candidate that I’ve gotten this excited about this early. I’ve never worked in a primary before. And I’ll say this: I think that this speech really summed up his message, and it did it in a way that combined soaring rhetoric, logic, substance, creativity and vision. If you like the message in this speech, then he is the candidate for you. If you don’t like the speech, then he isn’t your candidate and there isn’t much that I can do about that.

Sure, I hope that others see the speech as I saw it. But I can say that I’ve never been prouder to be on this team and if we end up not winning, well, I am still beaming and proud.

I admit that I became emotional as he talked about his family’s diverse background; it reminded me of my youth. I grew up on Air Force bases and had friends of all colors and ethnic heritages. That more or less ended when I went to Travis High School in Austin, Texas (when my dad retired). I did have some black and brown friends at Annapolis, but the culture was “overwhelmingly white”. I am not saying that I faced bigotry; in fact I didn’t. I am not even saying that the “whiteness” bothered me; after all it is now my “home” culture, even though I have brown skin. The sad fact is that I feel more at home with a bunch of white (and, to be fair, yellow) people as that is who I see in my profession. People who look like I do are, paradoxically, a bit unusual to me. That is why I sometimes flinch inwardly when, while in Texas, people often greet me in Spanish! (I sure wish that my Spanish was better!)

What do I have to say about race in our country?

I’ll speak from my academic experience. I certainly agree with Obama when he said this:

[...]Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us. [...]

So, at my level (college level), we try some remedies. So, maybe we cut some slack on an ACT exam for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But do you know what that means? Students from these backgrounds are coming in with less preparation and, on the average, will fail at a higher rate than normal. It sounds cruel, but hey, there is nothing racial about calculus or physics. If a student wants to be a scientist or engineer, they have to learn the universal laws and principles, and learn them in an honest, uncompromising way.

And, unfortunately, students who have been told (correctly) that they have suffered from discrimination will often use that as an excuse to not work hard when things get tough.

The sad fact is that some people indeed start off in a hole; that is NOT fair. But if one is in a hole, one isn’t going to get out of it if they proceed to dig themselves deeper. As Obama also said:

The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

And one further point: whether the message gets heard often depends on who is saying it. One can say the same thing with very different motivations, and some lessons are best delivered by those that you trust, and trusting those who don’t look like you can be very difficult for some, especially for those who have been previously burned.

Note: from a Daily Kos diary by LarsThorwald

That speech today? The one that has pundits–from the liberal David Corn at The Nation (“This is as sophisticated a discussion of race as any American politician has sought to present to the public”) to the conservative Charles Murray, of National Review Online (“it is just plain flat out brilliant—rhetorically, but also in capturing a lot of nuance about race in America. It is so far above the standard we’re used to from our pols.”), and those inbetween–noting the brilliance, sophistication, sincerity and candor of the words spoken by Obama? That speech?

Many bloggers and writers had reactions to it; this one is similar to my own

One of my personal maxims has been that politicians will disappoint you. The ones you like will have personal failings, while the ones you detest will fail time and time again. With Senator Obama, for the first time in my life, I have watched a political leader who I don’t worry if he’ll be up to the task.

It’s like you had Michael Jordan in his prime or Joe Montana with 2 minutes to go. It’s that feeling where you say to yourself: Ok, breathe, he’s got it.

Chill, Barack’s got it.

For more reactions, see here (reactions from several political perspectives)

Many of the blogs I read had reactions to it:

A former law student of BHO talks about the speech; it was similar to what he got in class.

Cosmic Variance (Obama is popular here)
Bupkiss (Clinton Supporter)
Nikki’s Nest (see if there are comments)
Billy Jack’s blog (an Obama skeptic, to say the least; anti-intellectual when compared to most of the blogs that I read) Update: Mr. Loughlin left a thoughtful, classy and well written comment.
Dus 7 She is sort of what I would call an “Edwards” type of Democrat

More reaction: Ari at the Edge of the American West.

A collection of positive reactions
New York Times

Someone watched the speech with random strangers.

Dick Morris talks about the speech and how this issue will (or should) impact the election. BTW, on political grounds, I think that Morris gets it mostly right.

Some Republican Reactions

Another Republican’s reaction; this guy might be an anti-intellectual woo, but on some issues, he gets it.

Note: this speech wasn’t going to win over the hard core right.

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March 18, 2008 - Posted by | education, obama, politics/social

5 Comments »

  1. Hey ! Thanks for the mention in your article on Barak Obama’s Speech. Unfortunately, I was on the road all day today and did not get to hear it. I found your post to be extremely helpful in bringing me up to date in what he said. Thanks! As for my blog being “anti-intellectual” compared to the other blogs you read, I suppose you probably have a good point. There are a good many brilliant people who write some very good blogs, and I don’t pretend to compete with any of them where intelligence is concerned. But, that’s OK, because I have never written for academia nor for the intellecutally elite. Rather, I write for common people who are more impressed with common sense and straight talk than with syllogisms and high sounding vocabularies. As for my being an Obama skeptic, I suppose that is a fair description of my position. However, I fall far short of being cynical about him. He could clarify any misgivings I may have about him simply by cutting the crap, and quitting insulting my intelligence. I know (and so do you) that he knew exactly who his preacher is and what he believes. It may not matter to you that he knew. But the fact is–he did know, and he lied when he said he didn’t. Ordinarliy a lie coming from a politician wouldn’t phase me. But, Obama has put himself in the position of being “above politics as usual.” So he, in true Gary Hart-like fashion, has invited increased scrutiny. It’s his right to do that, and it’s my right to hold him to a higher standard and expect him to be completely up front with me. Thanks again for mentioning my post (unflattering though it may have been). Keep up the good work. I don’t agree with you very often–but I really enjoy your writing. By the way, referencing the Daily Kos in an article in which you claim to read intellectual blogs is like me claiming irrefutable proof against the existence of God and quoting Art Bell. But, to each his own I suppose!

    Comment by BillyJack | March 19, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks for your response. No, I don’t think that Obama is lying; in his speech he was very upfront about what he thought about Rev. Wright.

    I think that many people don’t understand the religious left. True, I am an atheist but I am still nominally on the rolls of the local Unitarian Church. Much of what comes from the pulpit on such a church is based on social justice, and we are often critical of US social and foreign policy. Yes, some things are said that make me uncomfortable, but most of us don’t leave the church over 1-2 lines that appear in a sermon or two over a long period of time.

    For example, “god damn the US of A” could have well been a condemnation of the US for not living up to its basic principles; right wing religious preachers do that all of the time, albeit for “sins” such as the acceptance of homosexuality. Why aren’t White Republicans held to account over these things?

    Mitt Romney is active in a church that has racist ideas as an integral part of its sacred scripture (e. g., people with my skin color are viewed as being cursed by their deity). Up until the 1970′s, African American males weren’t even permitted to be fully active adult males in their wards (e. g., be lay priests, which most adult males are) and this was a supposed revelation from one of their “prophets” (Church President). Where was the condemnation of that?

    As far as the Daily Kos goes: one can find tripe there, but one can find many other things too; you might try looking at “unitary moonbat’s” stuff or poblano’s stuff or even Darksyde’s stuff. But I really wasn’t talking about the Kos when I mentioned most of the blogs that I read as I consider that as a chat room of sorts.

    I was thinking more about Cosmic Variance, The Edge of the American West, Anthropology.net, Good Math/Bad math, Biosingularity and the Richard Dawkins blog, and yes, even Dr. Andy’s blog (not updated in a long time). Dr. Andy is a dyed in the wool Republican who goes after me from time to time but I love him anyway.

    BTW, I have the “complete set”: Born Losers, BJ, Trial of BJ, and yes, BJ goes to Washington. So, if I am a critic, at least I am a paying one. :)

    Anyway, Mr. Loughlin, thanks for showing more class than I did. :) I feel a bit ashamed of myself now.

    Sometimes those of us who aren’t famous forget that famous people are indeed real human beings, and thanks for taking the time to stop by.

    Comment by ollie | March 19, 2008 | Reply

  3. Barry said a lot of things that I was glad to hear. However, the speech contained way too much “but”.

    Comment by Vonster | March 19, 2008 | Reply

  4. Great comment Ollie. I liked the speech too, BUT

    1. Now he says he did know how controversial Wright was? Didn’t he say a week ago he would have walked out?
    2. How, exactly, is the pastor of a huge church analogous to his grandmother. The latter is a private citizen and the former a leader.
    3.Why can’t he repudiate Wright. You can’t choose your relatives but he chose Wright as his pastor, and later bragged about it.

    Had he repudiated Wright, it would have hurt him among people like Ollie (and Daily Kos types) but by not doing so, I think he’s really hurt himself in the general election. You can defend what Wright said all you want (and arguing that Wright needs to be judged on his career, not a few clips is a good argument) but if he is identified with this kind of belief, he will lose in the general election.

    X

    PS A social retard? Ollie, coming from you, that really stings!

    Comment by Dr. Andy | March 20, 2008 | Reply

  5. Andy:
    1. He said that he knew that Wright said controversial things. But there are controversial things that one swallows because one thinks “ok, I am uncomfortable. But shouldn’t a good minister make me uncomfortable from time to time”?

    Example: I once heard a clergyman say: “in World War II, there was hardly any public debate on the morality of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But had we dropped condoms on those cities, there would have been massive outrage.”

    Do you know where I heard this? At a public lecture on morals at the U. S. Naval Academy; the clergyman was a Catholic priest and a Naval Captain (equivalent in rank to an Army Colonel. )

    That was a controversial statement. But it wasn’t “over the top”.

    2. Wright was an active mentor of Obama’s when he started his community organizer work; BHO was just out of Columbia University and he was told that he needed to find a spiritual home if he were to have any “street credibility.” So, his pastor “knew him when” and mentored him up.
    Also remember that Obama’s father had left him when he was 2 years old.

    3. I think that Obama did the right thing: “condemn the sin but not the sinner”. I am not a Christian, but isn’t that part of what Jesus of Nazareth preached? :)

    4. Ok Andy, I’ll denounce and reject my former criticism and replace it with this one: if you think that the isolated injustices of affirmative action somehow are of the same magnitude and scope of the indignities and brutalities put on by legalized racism, then, well, “that is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard from someone “not” named Souter”. :)

    As far as the last point: no, I don’t think that Wright will hurt Obama in the long run; the general public tends to be forgiving when it comes to associations with psychotic ministers

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/3/18/11139/2312/916/479110

    Besides, if the right wing continues to attack Wright, well, Wright isn’t running for anything. That is the lightening rod effect that worked for Bill Clinton in 1992 (when the RW went after Hillary to the point of leaving Bill alone).

    You might find Dick Morris’ article interesting: he claims that Obama did what he needed to do. He is a bit more cynical (realistic?) than I am but I mostly agree with him.

    http://www.newsmax.com/morris/Obama_Wright_Morris/2008/03/18/81439.html

    Comment by blueollie | March 20, 2008 | Reply


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