Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Obama Speaks of Hope Amidst Issues of Race!
Today Barack Obama gave a very enlightened speech amid a week of controversy over comments made by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ. Before I delve into his speech, I would like to give a little background. Trinity is one of the largest African-American churches in the city of Chicago. It is also in the top twenty largest churches in America. They have four services on Sunday to accommodate the membership, and Rev. Wright is a pillar in the United Church of Christ as well as in Black America. He has been admired and toted from people such as Michael Eric Dyson to Tavis Smiley. One thing that has stood out has been his undying quest to teach today's generation the importance of race in America and how Christianity is the vessel to get them through it.
So, what was the controversy about? A series of about 13 sermons, that had been edited into a damaging video of Rev. Wright angrily preaching to his congregation about how Hillary Clinton is not in the same arena as Obama, because unlike him, she hasn't had to deal with racism. He also compared present day America to the Roman Empire in the bible. Once this video got out, which conveniently was about two days after the whole Geraldine Ferraro situation, the media went on Obama attack. His patriotism was called into question, Rev. Wright was called a bigot, a cult leader and unpatriotic. For days now, you can't turn on any news channel without this being their main news story. Now all of a sudden the one candidate who hadn't been talking about race or making it an issue, had the issue of race swirling around him.
So, to clear things up and address the controversial remarks, Obama made a speech this afternoon. He wasn't nervous, panicky, guilty or any of the many things the media guessed he would be. In fact, he took the high road and took this situation as an opportunity to finally address something that has plagued this nation since day one. Here is an excerpt of his speech:
"[R]ace is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. The reality in which Rev. Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up" in the 1950s and 1960s was one of legal segregation, and discrimination even afterward. For many, he said, "the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away, nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years." It still finds expression, he said, in black barbershops and kitchens, and in black churches.
What was even more interesting to me were the comments that came from this speech. It didn't surprise me how different they were based upon race:
"It wasn't until he was forced to take a stand against Wright's screed that he finally did," Republican strategist Tony Fabrizio wrote in an email. "Why didn't he denounce what he said when he said it? Why didn't he distance himself then? What Wright said was no one-time slip of the tongue."
Even Obama supporters have seen dangers in the senator addressing racial tensions so directly. "The more he has to talk about race, the blacker he becomes in the public imagination," said Randall Kennedy, a Harvard law professor and Obama backer, before the speech.
Sen. Clinton, also in Philadelphia to campaign yesterday, told reporters she hadn't seen or read the Obama speech. "Race and gender are difficult issues and therefore we need to have more discussion about this," she said, adding: "Obviously the more Sen. Obama and I talk about it or put it into some context...that's good for the country."
I am just befuddled at how out of touch so many Americans come across since these comments saw the light of day. I am 30 years-old, obviously a product of the post civil-rights era, and without a shadow of a doubt, I have experienced Real Racism in this country in my time. It is something you never forget and consequently it is also something that a white person in America will never experience or understand. I feel like white Americans are walking around with a veil on if they think racism is over. While I don't agree with the method in which Rev. Wright was addressing racism, I understand the anger. Once you have experienced racism, it is so demoralizing and humiliating, you NEVER forget it. But for the media along with right-wing conservatives to say that his anger makes him a bigot and unpatriotic is a real slap in the face, and further encourages racism in this country. The message that it sends out is, well you should just suck it up. So what if you have been oppressed and still don't have equal rights, keep your anger to yourself, complain in private. That notion is racist as hell! I can relate wholeheartedly with Barack Obama's explanation of the generational difference. My grandparents literally don't like white people. Both are direct products of pre-civil rights America. They picked cotton and share-cropped in an extremely racist south. As much as I didn't care to hear the hatred they felt, I understood it because what they've seen and been through, no one ever apologized for. Thus, it is much harder to get past.
What was compelling was when Obama who denounced Rev. Wright's statements, didn't denounce the man. He said he couldn't, just like he couldn't denounce his white grandmother who helped raise him and yet also admitted to being afraid of black men, and made racial epithets around him that made him cringe. I can understand that as well. I have a friend whose grandmother was white and basically raised her to fear and dislike black men, so she does. What that tells me is that race is very strong still in this country. We, all of us, black, white, red, yellow, brown - are dealing with the residue of slavery. No one wants to talk about it. In fact I have often heard people say, "I wish you people would just get over it." How do you get over something that still exists? Slavery wasn't just about the physical detainment of an entire race, it was also about the mental division and cultural elitism of races in this country and those ideals still exist in 2008.
We have to deal with it, otherwise we will go another hundred years holding on to anger, saying racially explosive and hurtful things about each other and still having generations recycling the pain of one of the biggest acts of terrorism to ever take place on this earth. Obama's speech today was a wake-up call to America. Racism must be dealt with, otherwise, generations to come will still be recycling the same conversations, the same speeches, the same protests and worst of all, the same pain!