A More Perfect Union

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Barack Obama gave a speech on Tuesday afternoon in which he addressed the 800-pound-gorilla in the room:

Apparently, he is black.

Now, obviously everyone knows by now that Barack Obama is black. Dude has been on TV every day for like 3 years. But I say "apparently" because until now, the issue has remained at the periphery of the campaign. Questions of race have come up, but only regarding the candidate himself: Is he black enough? Can he energize black voters? What about white voters? Or latino voters? Is America ready for a black president?

It was in this context, and coupled with a conversation about an inflammatory black pastor, that Senator Obama gave the following speech. And if you have 37 free minutes, I highly recommend that you watch the entire thing. For my money, this is the best summary of current race relations I have ever heard:

This is not just a guy who happens to have darker skin than most presidential candidates. He is a Black American. He has lived the Black American experience. He has been subject to the latent racism. He has been accused of being a "product of affirmative action". He has seen the societal inequity. And those experiences have affected him.

And so begin the real questions about race. Not the questions about the relationship between the candidate and the American people, but rather the questions about the American people themselves; are we ready to deal with the racial issues that exist in our society?

Black people are mad. They are mad about slavery. They are mad about segregation. They are mad about social inequality. They are mad at a society that tells them that the competition is fair even though the runner next to them got a 300 year head start. This is the anger we saw with Reverend Wright.

White people are mad, too. They are mad about affirmative action. They are mad about welfare. They are mad about immigrants. They are mad about an America in which they are told they were born with an advantage, even if they had to scratch and claw for every inch of ground gained. This is the anger we saw with Geraldine Ferraro last week.

(Side note; my people, the Native Americans, would be mad too, but most of us are dead. Thanks a bunch, white people...)

Equality is a tough needle to thread. I feel like we've reached a point where, to a large extent, a black kid and a white kid growing up next door to each other have many of the same opportunities in life. But the fact remains that the average black kid and the average white kid are not born in the same place. I think this election may force us to face some of these issues. And it may not be pretty, but the resulting moment of gestalt could be really good for our nation.

Plus, it'll make for some really interesting speeches.

5 comments:

Rickey Henderson 8:05 AM  

Wait, Obama is black? Rickey was woefully uninformed of this crucial detail.

Bob "Chief Beer Advocate" 8:01 AM  

Another excellent peace written by B Mac. Once again he earns the title of “Chief Political Correspondent”.

I watched the first 20 minutes of the speech and plan to go back to listen to the rest. So far, I see it as a great speech. I wish everyone would see more than a few sound bites.

It will not make everyone happy, but it definitely demonstrates Obama’s ability to lead. It is honest, but respectful dialogue. Regardless of what you think of the Reverend’s comments, I am glad Obama did not take the “easy” way out and just throw his former pastor under the bus, disowning him. It would not have helped race relations, nor would it have helped Obama’s candidacy.

I have to respectfully disagree with one of B Mac’s points:
“I feel like we've reached a point where, to a large extent, a black kid and a white kid growing up next door to each other have many of the same opportunities in life.”

I disagree with this statement because I had opportunities in an all white community that the average black young man or woman would not have, nor do I think these same opportunties exist in integrated communitities.

Many people in this country have put themselves or their children through college doing manual labor, like carpentry. Most of the carpentry and home building jobs are in growing areas, where it is rural and predominantly white. After and before college, I too worked in the building industry. The fact is the contractors I worked for would not have hired a black man, let alone a black woman to do the work we did. They likely would have hired the white male that grew up next door to the black man or woman in you example. These jobs don’t really exist in black communities in Michigan (or, I am guessing the rest of the country) because the black communities, which are predominately urban, are not growing.

This is just one example, in one industry, but I think it makes the point that there are still places that have jobs that don't welcome all people.

Thanks again for posting this B Mac.

Please discuss.

Smitty 1:22 PM  

This speech was the most honest, frank and least emotionally-charged discussion of the role of racism in American politics I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. It was wonderful. It was just a bare-bones, honest speech. It said it's still here (racism), but if you allow it to become the focal point of your discussion, you only serve to deepen the divide. I love it. On the other hand, if we don't confront it, as he says, then how can we possibly solve other problems? Perfect.

He exhibited the traits of true leadership. He reasonably and rationally explained anger and history in a call to hear him out and do something about it. Step-by-step, his speech moved away from catch-phrases for empty-headed racial tolerance (respect cultural differences; embrace diversity; celebrate differences; Bingo!), and actually laid-out the history, the consequences, and the methods to seek solutions. Nowhere in his speech were the same "cultural understanding" bullshit seminars you get in corporate America so that all the whites can learn to work and play fair in the sandbox with all the blacks, latinos, etc. I have sat through thoe, and they border on the offensive given that they are empty. They confront and solve nothing and instead teach us to ignore th underlying problem. Obama's speech was focused on the underlying issues we've not spoken about for a long time, and it was refreshing. It was also risky to do this, but he did it, because a leader fucking does what's right.

"I can no more disavow him than I can my own grandmother."

Exactly. His reverend, who clearly went off the deep end, is still a part of the black experience and in fact a product of it. We need to confront his words as much as we need to confront the rest of that 800 pound gorilla.

These jobs don’t really exist in black communities in Michigan (or, I am guessing the rest of the country) because the black communities, which are predominately urban, are not growing.

That's a pretty broad brush, bob.

steves 6:18 PM  

I grew up in a rural area. I certainly had great opportunities, but my dad was a professor at MTU. OTOH, the vast majority of people I went to school with were not going to college. The money just wasn't there. I just don't buy your notion that most rural areas are full of growth and potential. I can't speak for all areas, but the UP has major issues with poverty and unemployment.

I still think Obama has handled things brillantly and I still plan on voting for him. I really think he is a person that wants to find common ground.

Bob "Chief Beer Advocate" 9:18 PM  

Ok, you guys missed the point. As said, my example is just one community in one industry. I also never made the case that rural areas are chock full of jobs.

My only point is, there are areas and industries that do not welcome non-whites, which means that we do not have equal opportunity. Until everyone has the same chance to get a good education, or the same chance at a good-paying job that doesn't require an education (like construction) there will not be equal opportunity.

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