Friday, March 21, 2008

About Obama's Speech...

I finally got around to reading all of Sen. Barack Obama's speech on race in America. Here are my thoughts:

* It's honest in ways a lot of us aren't going to like. You can read it and think he's trying to excuse the hateful words of his pastor. But I will maintain he's trying to explain how we got to this point. The one thing I took away from this speech above everything else is that race relations are a heckuva lot more complicated than how the media portrays them.

* Obama is clearly trying to reframe a lot of racial woes as economic woes we mistakenly blame on racism -- namely poverty, unemployment, and disparities in health care. He goes after corporate America hard:
Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.
This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.
* Undoubtedly some of you are going to think Obama is doing a Clinton, trying to be on both sides of the issue. But race is an issue where you can't pick a side, not if you want to have a discussion that doesn't rot into The Jerry Springer Show with verbal chair-throwing. Sen. Obama also gets points for saying it's not enough to simply be a color-blind society:
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.
In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.
We can't turn off the color receptors in our brains. And even black and white TV sets have color -- just two of them, three if you count gray. Racial justice demands racial consciousness, because we are still dealing with racism.

But then, Obama boils it down to a simple principle:
In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.
So there you have it: the Golden Rule. Hate the sin, but love the sinner. That's certainly the attitude Obama has towards his pastor. That's the attitude Christ taught us to have. I wish the senator would have challenged his pastor to show some more of that attitude instead of just... well... attitude.

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