Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Barack Obama Gets Medieval On The Ass Of America's False Dichotomies (Or: The Most Insightful Speech on Race Relations Ever)

In one fell oratorical swoop, Barack Obama managed to not only condemn his former Pastor's inflammatory remarks about America, but also put into historical context the anger fueling those statements, while acknowledging the presence, influence and humanity that Rev. Wright has had on his own life. Furthermore, Obama stated that while the African-American community needs to take more responsibility for its own standing, Caucasian-Americans must also be more understanding about, and acknowledge, the frustration, hurt, and dehumanization which are the legacy of State-sanctioned discrimination from the 50s and 60s is alive and well in modern-day society.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it -- those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations -- those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future.

Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor have the anger and the bitterness of those years...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.

However, Obama stressed that concerns about crime, poverty, and job-loss that White Americans may have must not be dismissed outright as racial intolerance. In sum, Obama stated that, while anger in all communities must be acknowledged, it also must not be a destructive force. Instead, a dialogue must take place where common ground is sought:

Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their 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.

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.

In conclusion, Obama said that Wright's mistake was not addressing racism, but rather assuming that "our society was static" had nothing had changed. Obama stated that both Whites and Blacks must work together and acknowledge problems in both communities so that tangible change can be realized. Only by rejecting the cynicism that modern politics breeds can we form a more perfect union.

Read the speech in its entirety here or watch it at the top of the post.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Blogger jon jon said...

...or the only speech on race, like ever...



7:44 PM  

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