Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama on race

This isn't about the election; this is our best "teachable moment" about race and class in the USA in a generation, and the best leadership in that conversation since Martin Luther King, Jr.

Obama's speech was masterful. Marc Lamont Hill writes, "once he got his perfunctory centrist kowtowing out of the way, Obama delivered one of the most complex, sophisticated, and powerful speeches in recent political history.

Instead of merely assuaging white racial anxieties, Obama’s words forced the entire nation to come to terms with its demons. Although he unequivocally denounced Jeremiah Wright’s remarks, Obama refused to reduce him (or his own white grandmother) to a racist caricature. Also, through his evenhanded analysis of both structural inequality and individual responsibility, Obama raised the stakes for racial discourse in American politics."

Of course, even as Obama was still speaking, CNN was doing its best to slant his message, and re-affirm the dominant paradigm. CNN ran selected quotes in text under his live speech. While Obama spoke of a coalition of "white and black, Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old," CNN used selected quotes to emphasize the existing racial divide. While Obama said, "What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them," CNN carefully quoted, "many blacks were ultimately defeated by racism." Yes, Obama did say that, but *NO* that isn't the real thrust of his comments.

Well, there is a lot more of that to come. We haven't nearly heard the ugliest attacks yet. But in some ways, that doesn not matter. If we seize this moment, and deepen our grass-roots conversations about race and class, then we won't be relying on a politician to save us; we'll be taking responsibility ourselves. Whatever his ultimate career path, Obama's greatest legacy may stem from this speech.

Let us seize the moment. If Obama "raised the stakes," let us ante up ourselves, and see if we cannot live up to his vision.


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