early and often

Barack Obama’s Speech on Race in America Is Honest, Brutal


Photo: Getty Images

Barack Obama just finished his big address on race and politics in Philadelphia. This was a big one for him, as he’s been forced to address many racially charged issues in the past week because of his friendship and affiliation with the controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Wright is Obama’s pastor and officiated his wedding with Michelle Obama. He’s also blamed the United States for 9/11, the AIDS virus, and “creating a racist society.” In the lull before the Pennsylvania primary on April 22, this has become the main political plotline of the Democratic contest. Today, he addressed these issues and the broader scale of racial tension in America. It was strikingly reminiscent of Mitt Romney’s much-touted “Faith in America” address. Beginning with a discussion of the Declaration of Independence and a nod to Obama’s mixed heritage, it honestly bared the anger and confusion (and roots thereof) that black and white people still face in America today. Some highlights:

• “For as long as I live I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible,” he explained, referencing the slave ancestry in his wife and daughter’s heritage.
• He exclusively referred to Reverend Wright as his “former pastor.” He also conceded that he had heard him sermonize controversial ideas but compared it to the many Americans who have heard similar things from their own priests, rabbis, and religious leaders. He called Wright’s opinion “a profoundly distorted view of this country.”

• But he added that “[Wright’s church] embodies the black community in its entirety.” He read a passage from his book, Dreams From My Father, that explained his first experience in the Trinity United Church.
• “As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith,” Obama explained. “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother, a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who pass her on the street.” [OMG! That’s just like our white grandmother!]
• He explained the roots of the quiet anger still simmering in middle-class black families over the social injustices of the twentieth century and compared it to the frustration of similar white families. “The anger is real, it is powerful,” he said. “And to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, serves only to widen the chasm of understanding between the races.”
• Obama also reminded listeners of his main campaign message: “The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about profound racism in our society, it’s that he spoke of our problems as if it was static.” After a long pause, he continued. “We know, because we have seen, that America can change. What we have already seen has given us hope, and the audacity to hope.”
• He closed by challenging voters and the press not to defer discussions over race to a later date, but to face them now in order to come together to solve larger problems. “The children in America are not ‘those people’s kids,’” he said, raising his voice. “They are our kids.”

What did you think? Was all this honesty and difficult subject matter the right thing for Obama to bring up right now? Or will it change the way people view his candidacy for the worse? Let us know in the comments.

Barack Obama’s Speech on Race in America Is Honest, Brutal