Archive for Sunday, March 23, 2008

Obama shows how to talk about race

March 23, 2008


For a people so obsessed with race, we are exceptionally bad at talking about it.

Some of us fear talking about it, get nervous and fluttery and act as if this is a topic polite people should avoid.

Some of us are unequipped to talk about it, too ignorant of the history that undergirds it, too willing to bend that history toward ideological ends, too blithely dismissive of the fact that history matters, that past informs present informs future.

Some of us lack the compassion to talk about it, prefer to use it only as a means of denigrating, diminishing and dismissing the Other.

Some of us are uncomfortable talking about it because it makes us feel what we'd rather not: anger, sorrow, defensiveness, guilt.

And some of us - politicians in particular - talk about race only to use it as a weapon, only as a means of hitting the other candidate.

Barack Obama spoke of race Tuesday in Philadelphia. He did so with calm confidence, with a firm grasp of, and appreciation for, the history that undergirds it, with compassion that did not stop at the color line and yet, without anger, sorrow, defensiveness, or an attempt to impose guilt, without making it a political cudgel.

"Not this time," he said.

"And so," intoned Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show," "at 11 o'clock a.m. on a Tuesday, a prominent politician spoke to Americans about race as though they were adults."

Obama, who has steadfastly refused to be defined or confined by race, has nevertheless seen race consume the last two weeks of his campaign. First, there was Geraldine Ferraro and her asinine contention that Obama is somehow an affirmative action candidate, that the millions of black, white and other voters who support him are somehow bewitched by the color of his skin and never mind that Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Alan Keyes have the same color skin, yet never enjoyed more than a fraction of his success.

More substantively, there was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's friend and former pastor. Video clips (from what source, I still can't tell) flooded the Internet showing the pastor denouncing America in coarse and strident tones. As depicted in those excerpts, Wright, who is also an avowed admirer of the hateful Louis Farrakhan, crossed the line from the incendiary truth-telling of the African-American ministerial tradition into a corrosive, paranoid, ungodly bitterness.

For Obama, the expedient and politically intelligent thing would have been to denounce Wright, cut him loose and move on. Instead, he did what Clinton did not after Ferraro shot off her mouth, what George W. Bush did not after he spoke at Bob Jones University, what John McCain did not after he wimped out about the Confederate flag, what Ronald Reagan did not after he blessed "state's rights," what Jimmy Carter did not after he invoked "ethnic purity."

He showed courage. He seized the teachable moment. Then he taught that moment, not in the stark and simplistic black and white terms so often preferred by blacks and whites but, rather, with a sophisticated grasp of the thorny nuances of race and a compassion vast enough to comprehend not only the anger and frustration of blacks, but also that of whites - and to recognize the righteousness in both.

And Obama reminded us that anger and frustration are not destiny. "America can change," he said. "That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope, the audacity to hope, for what we can and must achieve tomorrow."

He explained America to itself. He pointed America toward higher ground. It was a brave, magnificent and - mark my words - historic moment. You see, we just lost the last excuse for our inability to talk about race.

Last week in Philadelphia, Barack Obama showed us how.

- Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


bondmen 10 years ago

"Alan K. Henderson has a devastating critique of Obama's speech trying to defend his association with Rev. Wright:

Obama explains that he stays with his church because he knows about Wright a lot more than just a few selected quotes. But aren't those few quotes sufficient to identify serious moral flaws that call into question a man's qualifications as a spiritual leader. Wouldn't Fred Phelps' "God hates fags" sound bite be enough to tell me that investing 20 years at Westboro Baptist Church might not be a good idea?

I would not bemoan someone for associating with seriously flawed individuals like Wright or Phelps or Farrakhan if one refrains from aiding and abetting those flaws - see Romans 12:2. In the case of relations with dubious clergymen, that means not becoming regular members of the organizations through which they spread their iniquity."

Gary Sandell 10 years ago

Just some questions, in my own mind, that I have not really seen addressed on this issue. No "facts" to back it up, just questions: Based on my experience in married life, most and I say "most" men, no matter how strong or powerful they project that are or might be, tend to do and associate with organizations and people whom are in their wife's own circle and comfort zone. Most couples, when getting married in a chuch will probably be married in the wife's church. Most couples will socialize and be involved in churches, organizations etc. which the wife is comfortable with. My question is, Was this church originally Michelle Obama's church and did Barack join it after they were married? Also, based on the comment by Mrs. Obama regarding this being the first time she was "proud" of America.....does that not fit into the exact thought pattern expressed by Rev. Wright? Maybe Sen. Obama's reasoning for staying in Rev. Wright's church was because it reflected Mrs. Obama's views and backgroud even more than his own and he has stayed with the church to satisfy her needs. Men have a tendency to give in on a lot of things if it makes things run smoother at home and they are honestly trying to make a marriage last.

Gary Sandell 10 years ago

Smitty says: You may also want to consider that Obama will not put his hand over his heart to pledge allegiance to the USA. Is that to keep his wife happy?

Probably a better choice for him than putting it over her mouth Smitty.

Speakout 10 years ago

Parkay, your assessment of this event is totally incorrect from the begining statement to the end. Your statement that Hamas wants to kill all Jews is totally incorrect. They want to kill the Zionists that have taken their land and have destroyed acres and acres of olive and almond trees (their livihood) and made Gaza a place of death for those who live there. They have never advocated the death of all Jews. This is an important truth. Over generalization is harmful to facts.

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