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Barack Obama: The race speech

By Griffin · March 18th, 2008 · 2 Comments


My initial reaction is that it’s the best and most personal speech Barack Obama has ever given.  And I’m struggling to think of a more high-stakes, more honest, more direct speech on race in America since Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963.  Obama wasn’t nearly as poetic as King, but he was every bit as insightful.

Though keep in mind, there was no 24-hour cable news channels or blogosphere back in 1963, so it’ll be interesting to see how Obama’s speech holds up and how it’s spun on all sides.  Will the news coverage parse the Rev. Wright and Trinity Church portions of the speech in order to continue that conversation, or will it focus on the bigger, much more important themes within the speech?  Namely, will the media stop for a moment and think about this critical, fundamental, but largely unspoken truth (emphasis mine):

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect.

And it’s hard not to contrast this speech with what I thought was the failure of Mitt Romney’s religion speech back in December.  Whereas Romney made one passing mention of his Mormon faith in the entire speech, Obama addressed his race, his religion, his church (including the reasons he joined and why he remains a member), and his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright head on and in surprising detail.  And whereas Mitt Romney attempted to pass the Mormon Church off– dishonestly– as just another Christian denomination, Obama gave a starkly honest accounting of the black church, the black community, and the occasional anger and frustration that bubbles up within both.

The key passage (emphasis mine):

Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

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.

UPDATE: The early headlines via Ben Smith…

CNN: Obama: Constitution stained by ‘sin of slavery’
ABC: Obama: Pastor Has Distorted View, But He Is Family to Me
FOX: Obama Condemns Pastor, But Won’t ‘Disown Him’
MSNBC: Obama: Racial anger is ‘real’
CBS: Obama Urges End To “Racial Stalemate”

Tags: Barack Obama · Democrats


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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kelly Pierce // Mar 18, 2008 at 11:56 am

    Ace in the hole. This speech should go in the history books. This candidacy should (and will) go in the history books. This was one of the most “presidential” speeches I have ever heard a candidate give in my life, if not THE most. It challenges every American to be better, from top-down and bottom-up. He didn’t dance around issues as most politicians and people in the public light do. If you didn’t feel challenged to be a better American after listening to this speech, you were not paying attention.

  • 2 Emmett Jones // Mar 18, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    Yeah, I agree with what you and the other commenter said. This was probably the best religious/political/socio-economic speech given in my lifetime. I know that, like you said, it will be dissected, but I think it will still stand up. He tackled the proverbial elephant in the room, and he did it in a way that really did make, me at least, want to go out and do something. I haven’t quite figured out what that “thing” is yet, but the fact that I even want to do anything is a pretty big deal.

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