I listened to Senator Obama’s speech today addressing the horribly offensive remarks of Reverend Wright but also using it as an opportunity to tell a story about a difficult story in this country; a story that is complicated and rarely talked about.
Mr. Obama is correct; our divisions must be addressed if we are going to thoughtfully tackle issues such as education, healthcare, jobs and a failing economy- we must unite as a people. Without the power of that unity nothing will change- health care will still be out of reach, education will still be abysmal for many in the nation, the economic woes of many Americans regardless of race will never be addressed. The only hope this nation has to battle against the special interest- specifically the well funded and influential lobbyists- is for a huge united voice to come together that can be powerful enough to force the change needed.
However in order to come together we must also admit the history that has divided us and which has been exploited by those in power that benefit from a divided nation. It is important for white Americans to understand the anger, the history, and the injustices that have been a legacy of slavery, Jim Crowe and the distrust that comes from Tuskegee. It is also important for black Americans to understand the anger that many white Americans have about bussing, welfare, and affirmative action. Many white Americans have come to resent what they see as special treatment for blacks due to historical injustice in which they played no part. Mr. Obama recognizes and appreciates these resentments. He also understands the resentments that some have about what is perceived as immigrants coming into the country and taking away their jobs and making their lives worse. Mr. Obama’s speech was addressing that the power elite has in fact exploited these resentments and it has encouraged them to fester and flourish. By keeping us divided the powerful interests keep the dialogue from moving to the issues that we must address and which affect all of us- no matter what our race, creed, gender or sexual orientation.
What needs to be addressed is that jobs are being shipped abroad to increase profits, that our healthcare system is broken and our educational system is an embarrassment. By using the politics of division- those in power and those powerful interests that they represent- can keep us down and keep us squabbling among ourselves so we blindly allow them to continue to exploit these divisions for their own self interest- profit and power.
It is precisely this narrative that recognizes this nation’s past injustices but challenges us not to use them to divide us and wallow in victimization but to understand one another so we can unite and truly be a force for change.
Mr. Obama’s speech was historic. Nearly every pundit – liberal, conservative and those in between recognize the importance of this speech. Some have said it is the most important speech on race since Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech. This was a speech that challenges us to find the better angels in ourselves and not to revert to our reptilian brains. This was a speech that opened up the reality of race in this country so it can be talked about openly and honestly nationally. This speech challenged us to move forward. Mr. Obama rejected cynicism today and assumed that the American people are intelligent and thoughtful enough to rationally look at these issues, understand the barriers that have separated us and overcome those barriers so we can truly work together to create change.
It was Mr. Obama’s ability to reëstablish hope that would mitigate my disappointment in the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the American people that had been concretized by the decisions voters made in the 2000 and 2004 elections. He made me believe that maybe Americans had moved out of the sleep walk they have been in over the past seven years and are able to pay attention to real issues and begin addressing them rationally and intelligently. He moved me out of my political cynicism.
How the media and the American electorate react to Mr. Obama’s speech in the coming weeks will prove whether my optimism is well founded or misguided. I truly hope the nation has awakened from its long sleep. If I am proven wrong I will be crestfallen and any hope I have in intelligent informed politics and a thoughtful electorate in this country will revert back to cynicism and disappointment.