Obama Takes On The Race Issue

Today, Barack Obama did what he had avoided doing this entire campaign–take on the issue of race and racism in America. And if you ask me, I think he won.

I thought this was one of the best speeches of his career, and one of the most nuanced speeches on racism of any Presidential candidate with perhaps the exception of Shirley Chisolm. I think one people will be critiquing and debating for years to come.

One of the major things about this speech is that he doesn’t sell his pastor (Jeremiah Wright) out. He explains where he emphatically denounces some of his statements but he puts Wright squarely in the context of racism in America, and he doesn’t let white America off the hook.

He addresses the deep-seated white anger and resentment not only towards him, but Black people who harbor any anger towards Black people for still being angry about racism and white supremacy. I need to watch it again to give a more full analysis, but watch it for yourselves (or read the full text here). I totally welcome your thoughts (Huffington Post is keeping a running tab on the thoughts of the major blogs). NPR’s News and Notes also ran pretty interesting commentary, here.

What was Senator Clinton doing during Obama’s speech? Pop Gumbo explains it!

7 thoughts on “Obama Takes On The Race Issue

  1. True, he gave a careful consideration to both sides of the racial issues. But – and this isn’t his fault – when you play so much to both sides of the racial divide in such a speech don’t both just filter out what they don’t want to deal with and continue to believe what they always have any ways?
    For example, won’t an angry white man interpret his middling points about white resentment over affirmative action as validation and tune out the rest about whites needing to stop acting as if racism was all in our minds? And vice versa? It was honest and inoffensive but because of that I feel like it almost panders to the status quo by default.

  2. This was a good speech. If he follows this up with action, Obama may establish one of the most important and remembered legacies of any American president. You can’t solve a disagreement by only understanding one side of the issue. Obama has not only demonstrated now that he understands both sides, but has also related personal experiences that show he has LIVED both sides.

  3. I agree, the speech was phenomenal. Robyn also has a point. I’m not sure how well received it will be. No matter how well Obama explained the state of America, America is a sound byte society.

    This morning I was listening to 97.1 on my way to work. Miss Jones, who I usually don’t listen to for this exact reason, said something along these lines:
    Look at the phones lighting up to talk to the psychic. I know nobody cares about governor Paterson and his infidelity or Obama’s speech about how great his white grandmama was, and how he doesn’t know his pastor.

    She can’t have listened to the speech, or else taken what she wanted from it. And I am sure white people will do the same.

    Listening to Obama made me believe that we can bridge the divides as a nation, or less idealistically, improve our attitudes. Our country is falling to pieces right now socially and economically. Am I being too pessimistic?

  4. His speech was remarkable. I hope enough people will give him a chance, I think with his help our country can make a lot of progress.

    “She can’t have listened to the speech, or else taken what she wanted from it. And I am sure white people will do the same. ”

    I’m white, and I thought his speech was incredible.
    He was so articulate, it was genuine and thoughtful, and he explained the different views so well, I think people will be brought together by it, not driven apart. The fact that he didn’t demonize either side, but tried to get people to look past our country’s hateful history, shows that he’s got the capability to be an amazing leader.

  5. As a Chicano and a radical, I personally do not see racism in this country in the way that Obama was conveying in his speech. I would never lay claim that the founding fathers had set things up right to begin with and that somehow it took generations to “perfect” the idea of equality for all. Nah, sorry, but no. No! Whenever someone begans an analysis on race that tries to pedestalize historically sytemic racists and racist institutions, I’m not gonna go down that aisle with those ideas. People of color have suffered from and fought way too much against those institutions, KNOWING that they were never set up in their favor.

    In the context of this country, since 1776, the system from the WHITE House was never meant to give people of color any rights. At best, we are given the “Melting Pot” theory where we must all assimilate and shut up. Obama’s speech really gave me the “melting pot” ideology scare.

    I also struggle with a lot of “lefties” who claim to be super political and/or radical and are digging Obama’s weird race discourse. If people think that Obama is some type of leftist/progressive/radical “manchurian candidate”, then please let me know. Otherwise, I have to agree a little more with what Matt Gonzalez said in his critique article “The Obama Craze: Count Me Out” and not feel like I have to “hope”, have “faith”, and “believe” that Obama maybe just maybe could be a good thing come November and January. I may as well go with Hillary.

    I actually agree much much more about a discourse on racism NEEDING to be more like what Cynthia McKinney (running for Prez under the Greens after being completely humiliated and sold out by the Democratic machine that is now lining itself up one by one under Obama’s camp) said right after Obama’s speech in “Discussion of Race that Matters”. Let’s speak about race and racism in a way that Validates the experiences of people of color TODAY. Not 1-2 generations ago like Obama appeared to imply, as if the fight against systemic racism had been massively advanced.

    But honestly, maybe my issue is more a matter of not being Black and not feeling directly what he said(?). Other brown folks I’ve spoken to about this speech feel a lot like I do, and we did not like how black & white the speech appeared to be (as if racism towards other people of color may or may not be existent or important enough to talk about). But I’m finding a lot of Blacks really feeling the speech.

    Kenyon, I love your thoughts and lot of things I’ve heard you say and read by you. That is why I’ve rolled by your blog/site today and appreciate the space. And I gotta give it up to Obama (and, dare I say, Hillary?) for at least getting us all extra time to start discussing these issues further.

  6. Hey RebBoy. I agree with you that not all of Obama’s speech around race was the most radical race analysis that I’ve ever heard. But I thought it was much more nuanced a speech than a Presidential candidate (who not only is Black but is in the lead, mind you) has ever given. And I also don’t read McKinney’s speech as a slam to Obama, it’s a slam to the way the media only covers race as “insensitive comments” and not as policies and institutions that create racial disparities in every category of existence.

    I think it’s interesting that “brown” (I don’t know if that means Latino, South Asian, or what these days) people you say you’ve spoken to, or at least yourself, don’t see any value or relevance to your lives around the “black/white” issues. First, the controversy, and animosity directed at Rev. Wright and ultimately Obama, was about that precise tension–white people (though perhaps other non-black people of color as well) feeling like the anger expressed by Rev. Wright was another example of how ungrateful black people are STILL. Furthermore, I think Chris Rock said this recently about the Rev. Wright situation–“Obama is like White America’s new Black friend, and they just realized they’re one black friend has OTHER black friends.”

    So, the hostility directed at Rev Wright was precisely because he was BLACK, not a nebulous and ever meaningless term “person of color.” Therefore, Obama’s response, whether we agreed with it or not, had to be directed at that specific tension.

    In essence, white people are still afraid Black people hate them, and want them dead. The fear of Rev Wright and the likes is rooted very much in Nat Turner and the nameless other black men and women who killed, poisoned and ran away in the name of resistance.

    I am unsure how non-black people of color feel like that tension has nothing to do with them. It has everything to do with you–even if it is sometimes covert. Because the foundation of the country (which, even one or two generations ago, has not gone anywhere) is so rooted in the genocide and removal of indigenous people and the enslavement and selling of black people as goods, other “brown” folks enter that dialogue still have to deal with that tension, and decide where you will choose to side.White folks are speaking to YOU about us, too! But i find, quite often, that when non-black people of color want to critique the “black-white” paradigm, it is always directed at Black people, as if we created it. How do the descendants of “property” get blamed for resisting the particular hatred directed at them?

    If Brown folks are weary of the “black-white” thing, be mad at Geraldine Ferraro for talking about black people but not opening up her racist comments to include brown people. Be mad at Hillary Clinton, for using the “Fear of a Black Planet” in white America to attack Barack by digging up old ass footage of Rev. Wright, and not some angry brown person he’s associated with. Be mad at white America for continuing to be invested in particular and systemic hatred and fear of Blacks. The fear of Blacks, unlike that of brown folks, is not generally about labor. It is about a fear of revenge homicide (They see Rev Wright and Farrakhan and Sista Souljah and they see Nat Turner/Harriet Tubman.)

    Black people don’t enjoy being in that position. But it is because our situation has been so desperate that we have had to wage a battle going back centuries. And if we happen to get some press sometimes because we’ve been organized enough to challenge it en masse, then don’t hate on us for being in the position for having to do so.

    I am reading this now and realize it sounds harsher than perhaps I intend to be. I am sensitive to the fact you are honestly questioning and thinking through this stuff, but I keep having to defend (and recently as yesterday) why Black people get to set their own agenda for how we talk about race, and when and how we choose (or don’t choose) to “broaden” our framework. It’s really frustrating.

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