If there’s any criticism I can offer of Obama’s highly anticipated speech on race relations this morning, it’s that it requires a full listen (or read); without that, the full context will be lost — and there’s a LOT of context there. Because I have a relatively low opinion of the Average American’s ability to manage complex information (sorry…), the electorate will be at the mercy of the pundits and bloggers as they lift, and distort / spin to suit their personal world views.
Here’s the full text.
When somebody gets the YouTube up, I’ll put it here , but in the meantime, go read it all. [Here’s the video, in one part]
He had a lot to say.
I realize that many folks are only interested in how he responded to the Jeremiah Wright issue, but to me, the essence of his speech is right here:
Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. […]
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time. […]
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.
I can’t even imagine a speech like this delivered at the national level prior to this moment in time.
For most of my lifetime, we’ve been forbidden to talk about any of those long-standing resentments in polite company. Instead, people seethe and nurse grievances. The longer this has continued, the farther apart some segments of society have grown. While I don’t think racism is held by more than a fringe few at any edge of the spectrum, society in general has suffered from unaddressed misunderstandings, and the resentment of dismissed concerns.
Whether Barack Obama wins the presidency or not, I think this speech alone shows that his candidacy has broken down some walls.
About danged time.
Added: Lots of folks are going to hear different things in the speech. Here are a couple of takes that I found interesting:
Pete Abel at TMV, struck by the words “Not this time”:
Better than most, those words capture, I think, why so many people from so many corners of the country — from different races, income levels, genders, and ideologies — have rallied to his candidacy: because they believe their vote for him is a vote against the past and for a different approach, a different future. Will we be divided along artificial lines of race and income and party? Not this time. Will we succumb to smear campaigns? Not this time. Will we stumble through the world blind to the fears and hopes of others? Not this time.
Justin Gardner has a media spin outtake at Donklephant (it’s an interesting early look):
So to sum up, MSNBC and CNN once again prove to be as objective as a news organization can be. And FOX, well, is FOX.
And for a truly horrifying example of the degree by which somebody can miss the whole point, here’s Charlotte Hays at The Corner:
Obama is no longer a post-racial candidate. In his speech (it’s still going on, but I’ve heard enough) today, he has embraced the politics of grievance.
Much more can be found here at memeorandum.