Obama's Truth To Power
Ironically, this speech is one of the most powerful reasons why an Obama presidency can, potentially, take America to new heights; for he rightly declared â€œrace is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.â€?
[Elections 2008: Race Dialogue]
On Tuesday, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Senator Barack Obama delivered one of the most truthful, historic speeches on race ever made by any American politician.
The speech entitled “A More Perfect Union” was delivered in the face of the blistering blitzkrieg of outrage whipped up by “mainstream” media in the aftermath of comments made by the former pastor of Obama’s church Jeremiah Wright.
Some of Rev. Wright’s caustic statements made during sermons have made the rounds in the media and on the Internet. In one instance, decrying America’s treatment of Blacks, Wright declared “God damn America.”
In another, he vilified America’s historic brutalization of Blacks, while invoking the word nigger. In typical fashion, broadcast media repetitiously played sound-bite parts of Rev. Wright’s comments; divorcing it from the context of his larger grievances regarding the bigotry that Blacks, who are the body of his congregation, have suffered.
Talking heads articulated their shock, feigning ignorance as to why Rev. Wright expressed such anger toward white America. Many insisted Obama denounce him. To Obama’s credit he rejected the easy way out, refusing to throw Wright under the bus of political expedience.
Instead, Obama used the opportunity to speak courageously about race in a way most politicians avoid. Given America’s phobia regarding race, Obama took a risk showing something few politicians do: integrity.
Ironically, this speech is one of the most powerful reasons why an Obama presidency can, potentially, take America to new heights; for he rightly declared “race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.” Moreover, the subtlety and dexterity with which he articulated the complexities from both the white and Black side of the racial divide was impressive.
In answering those questioning why he won’t disassociate himself with Wright, Obama stated “I can no more disown him than I can disown the Black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother who helped raise me and sacrificed for me.…but a woman who once confessed her fear of Black men who passed her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”
These were among the most poignant, potent points he made in his brave speech. It’s clear Obama has intellectually grappled with the anger, hatred and fear on both sides of the racial divide. Has his bi-racial sensibilities aided him here? Also, by using his grandmother’s biases he personalized the endemic effects of racism in America, showing that the seeds of bigotry are even embedded in families that produce individuals like him. By articulating this reality clearly, he challenges America to reach across the racial divide towards “a more perfect union.”
How could he have done better? Why do many in the “mainstream” media feel that Obama has to answer for the comments of his pastor? Is he guilty by association? Is Obama supposed to be responsible for remarks others, who may be close to him, make? This is exactly the kind of hypocrisy that plagues America and her media.
Let’s examine one so-called bastion of the “liberal” media: CNN. Several reporters, including Lou Dobbs and Wolf Blitzer pontificated about how “outrageous” Rev. Wright’s statements were to “white and Black people.”
The hypocrisy is nauseating. Recall the Blitzer interview with Harry Belafonte after Belafonte called President Bush a “terrorist.” During most of the interview, Blitzer repeatedly tried to get Belafonte to soften his statements about Bush.
The double standard that exists in media reared its ugly head on another occasion, following the comments of former Education Secretary Bill Bennett. Bennett said on his radio program that if you want to reduce crime in America, aborting Black babies was the way to go.
Curiously, Blitzer didn’t stick to the same standard when he interviewed Bennett. Instead, he allowed Bennett to claim that his comment advocating the extermination of Blacks were taken out of context. Blitzer, Dobbs and others at “the most trusted source in news” ask why Obama wouldn’t disassociate from Rev. Wright; Bennett meanwhile is a frequent so-called CNN “contributor.” Moreover, recently when Geraldine Ferraro’s vile view that “if Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position” was downplayed by so-called mainstream media as misguided, not racist.
Our friends at CNN question aloud why a Black pastor could express such vitriolic rage toward America. Are they that obtuse to the ongoing pain inflicted by the systematic vestiges of racial oppression? This is a country where one million of the two million people incarcerated are Black. A Black baby is three times more likely to die, during childbirth, than a white newborn. Yet the media, using an established template, never attribute any societal discrimination, deprivation, and neglect, from one generation to the next, as causal factors.
In New York City, the unemployment rate for Black men in a certain age range is 50%. Add police brutality to the mix, with the on-going trial in the Sean Bell case, where an unarmed Black man was killed when police fired 50 bullets at him hours he was to get married. And how about the Blacks who were left to drown in New Orleans?
Would these woeful conditions be tolerated if these were white people?
Obama’s speech gives us an opportunity to discuss race honestly. It‘s the only way to heal America.
Benjamin is a member of The Black Star News's Editorial Board.
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"Speaking Truth To Power."