Barack Obama | Election 2008 | News

Barack Obama Gives 'Race Speech' in Philadelphia

Barack Obama's much-anticipated speech on race is underway at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and the text has been released. In it, he addresses the controversy over comments by his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright and urges America to move on from the "racial stalemate" the country has been in for years.

ObamaSays Obama in the speech: "For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies. We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change."

WATCH the clip and read the full text of the speech, AFTER THE JUMP...

"A More Perfect Union"

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama

Constitution Center

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

As Prepared for Delivery

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, "Dreams From My Father," I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

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 – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

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.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. 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.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

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.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

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 is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

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.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

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.

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.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

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.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

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  1. Saying a great politician is 'just using words' is like saying a great artist is 'just using a paintbrush.'

    Grow up, people. Words, when they come from the next leader of the free world, are pretty damn important.

    Posted by: Dan | Mar 18, 2008 1:30:57 PM

  2. Astonedtemple,
    You misspelled his name, it's John McCain.

    Posted by: z | Mar 18, 2008 1:32:52 PM

  3. Zeke and Derrick from Philly:

    Y'all give me a little hope. It's hard to keep hope alive when the Dems are tearing each other apart like this. If it doesn't stop, then we truly truly truly deserve to lose.

    Posted by: The Milkman | Mar 18, 2008 1:40:37 PM

  4. The role of the President is to lead, inspire, set policy, and to hold his team accountable for its success (or lack thereof.) To denigrate Obama's considerable ability to inspire is to misunderstand the role of the President.

    Presidents don't sit in on meetings each and every day, twisting arms and writing tomes. They set a tone and direction, and serve as a guidepost.

    While I may disagree with some of Obama's decisions, such as Rev. McClurkin, I also realize that the great complexities of our times cannot be solved by either "side", but by a combined plurality. To think otherwise is to buy into Bush's current mandate of "You're either with us or against us." Life is not that simple, and Obama recognizes that.

    With this speech, as with his others, Obama has proven his mettle for tackling difficult issues with skill, sensitivity, understanding, and wisdom. And in a way in which he inspires and challenges every one of us to better ourselves and society.

    What more can we ask of a President than that???

    Posted by: Kergan | Mar 18, 2008 1:49:00 PM

  5. By constantly referring to Wright he kept the speech earthbound and common, not lofty and inspiring, imho.

    Also why so focused on race, he still has another intolerant minister is his camp. That homophobe McCulkin (sp?). One in your camp is a crazy uncle, 2 is starting to show a trend...

    Posted by: rucka | Mar 18, 2008 1:50:03 PM

  6. I've basically stopped reading the comments on political posts here on Towleroad because I think its time to stop with the bickering and get on with unifying for purpose, regardless of who wins. No more bile is needed. Either you are inspired by Obama (btw, beautifully stated, Kergan. I agree with you wholeheartedly) or you are devoted to Clinton.
    I could not agree more with what Zeke said. People have been one-sided on here from the beginning. For all the talk of their "concerns" about gay rights, honest politicians and such, it will be interesting to see how united some of the more acidic (ass-idic?) commenters will be (both on and off this blog) once the nomination is final.

    And Mike, TYPING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS THAT "IT'S OVER FOR OBAMA" DOES NOT MAKE IT A FACT. It's time to look at the the numbers. His support has not waned. Get over it, already.

    Posted by: soulbrotha | Mar 18, 2008 1:50:07 PM

  7. His beautiful powerful words will fall on deaf eyes and ears with most of the posters here who are as intolerant as those they decry, but, at least he laid it out for all to understand, and, now Hillary and McCain and the est who only have race as a wedge issue will have to find something else to try and smear him with.

    And, props to Andy for even posting this since any Obama thread gets the most catty, nasty posts of all.

    Posted by: Sebastian | Mar 18, 2008 1:56:44 PM

  8. This was an inspired speech. I am NOT an Obama supporter, but he took straw and he spun gold - that has to be admitted. His mixing of the races in "tails of trial" and his call to "reason" were magnificent - yet, there is always that whiff of the snake-oil salesman and the demagogue lurking in his vest. I wish, I really do, that he was genuine, but he is not - look at the facts. And if you find yourself, on the day of election, wondering what happened, yet again, to Democratic hope, recall the charismatic speeches while the battle was lost to the professionals.

    Posted by: Leducdor | Mar 18, 2008 1:58:50 PM

  9. I feel for Obama. He had to distance himself from the comments when, in all honesty, I understand what Wright was saying. When I heard the furor, I though Wright was saying something ridiculous. But, 9/11 being chickens coming home to roost? Um, didn't we train the Muhajedeen in Afghanistan and then pull out when the Soviets left. And as for rich white people running the country, isn't that true? Aren't the richest people, the captains of industry, and the most powerful politicians white men? Oh and given that African Americans are disproportionately poor, have less education, lead almost every negative public health statistic, why should "black people" be "happy." There's no reason why white America should be surprised that some black people are a little upset. It shows that there is still a huge communication gap between the races in America. That said, one of the reasons why I like Obama is the tone that he brings to a discourse. Sometimes its not just the substance, but the way in which a message is delivered. Obama could have made the same points as Wright, but delivered it in a much less divisive manner. I think he can do that on a number of issues and hopefully bring that balance to other contentious issues (like health care reform) so that we can get a consensus.

    Posted by: Brandon | Mar 18, 2008 2:00:13 PM

  10. Um, of course he's going to say these things to a national TV audience. He's going to say "let's all move past race," but then he'll wink and play the race card and adopt MLK's speech cadence when he's talking to black audiences. He wants to be black when it suits him and not black when his SPIRITUAL GUIDE says horrible, racist things.

    That was nothing less than a political stump speech. Good for him that people keep hanging on his political speeches as though they're something else.

    I couldn't care less who wins the Dem nomination, but every day this guy sounds more and more insincere.

    Posted by: Cyd | Mar 18, 2008 2:07:45 PM

  11. The problem with Obama's Rev Wright "problem" is that most of white America DOES NOT GET IT. They do not at all GET what it's like to be black (or Black as it is/were) in the USA. Obama can explain until the cows come home - they probably won't get it. Hell, I don't GET it. I can't, as I'm white. I might be gay, but even that isn't the same.

    But I've seen the genesis of what Rev. Wright talks about. I'll never forget it. I was shopping at Express. (So you know the counter clerks were trendy cute little gay boys.) My ex (who is black) and I were both making purchases at adjoining registers, making idle chatter as we waited. (We had only been dating for a few weeks at that point.) We were both paying with credit cards. I wasn't asked for ID. My ex was. I didn't get it. No other shoppers paying with credit in front of us had been asked for ID. And yet, when questioned, the clerk didn't feel as if he'd done anything untoward. The manager apologized, but clearly felt the umbrage with unwarranted. Even as we waited in the store to speak to the manager, the clerks rang up further customers (all white) using credit cards without asking for ID. My ex was angry, but kept his cool. "I'm used to it by now." I on the other hand wanted the clerk fired on the spot and wrote a letter to the corporate offices. No, there was never a response.

    It's the "small" things such as this - presumptions and stereotypes installed in white America's thinking by history, by television, by family, by news coverage that always seems to show the black male criminals in cuffs, (though rarely the often white abusive husbands,) etc - that Obama's hopes to reverse. I hope he can. I don't see it as a problem one man can fix, despite his embrace of a potentially transcendent moment. It will take time, the dilution through generations as a result of experience, blending, greater understanding, dying of the ignorant, etc.

    Meanwhile, we gays should know better - we're faced with a similar contempt throughout our lives by an equal ignorance - but often we do not. I've often witnessed greater racism in the gay community than I sometimes see in larger society short of KKK wackos and the ilk. We are, after all, a swath across all parts of society. Thus we reflect most of her good and her bad, often at heightened levels.

    Ok I've rambled on enough. Point is, Obama's words have power and should carry weight to the masses. But we know how lazy those masses are - anything heavier than a soundbite or text message is likely ignored in favor of what we already think we know as opposed to the uncertainty of a existential questions.

    Posted by: Ben | Mar 18, 2008 2:10:47 PM

  12. ZEKE -

    It works both ways, my friend. Die hard Obama supporters wouldn't be giving Hillary a chance either, nor have they, and that's fine for them. But to turn around and condemn us for being as "pro" our candidate as they are about theirs, is laughable and pathetic.

    Granted, I was not expecting to hear anything interesting from Senator Obama's speech today. Speeches are his thing and there was no denying it was going to be well put together. That said, I found that I didn't hate it or find myself mocking it. It was what it was and we'll see what happens.

    Throughout this whole Rev. Wright business, I can't say that I have found myself thinking Sen. Obama should be finished or that this be his last stand. That would be absurd. Still, to not question him and hold him accountable for actions that were in direct conflict with his rhetoric and campaign stance would've been just as absurd, if not insulting.


    I would argue that he was speaking to America as a whole, those that had questions, because I am not white and I needed this issue addressed.


    I agree that it would be sad for Clinton supporters to vote for McCain. His stance on the war and the conservative Supreme Court justices he would appoint are the two main issues not to vote Republican. It would be disastrous. That said, it would be no sadder than the Obama supporters who would vote McCain should Hillary be the nominee. So many people speak of her being "un-electable"...un-electable because she's not THEIR choice for candidate. Imagine how electable she would be (or he, for that matter. To those that think he can't win either) if we all put our own agenda and arrogance aside and voted for either one of the Democrat candidates.

    I hear so many people talking about how one candidate or the other is the only real person that can lead or unite us. The funny thing is that they don't see that the operative word in their statement is "US".
    Neither candidate can achieve anything unless WE as a people are behind them and holding THEM accountable for their ACTIONS or lack there of. It is of the people, for the people, by the people, damn it!

    KERGAN -

    What you're doing is incredible, and I applaud it.:) Congratulations and all the best to ya. Here's hoping we all get our act together for all our sakes.

    Posted by: silverskreen | Mar 18, 2008 2:18:38 PM

  13. Derrick:

    Many black people deny that there are gay black people, and still hate gays. I have trouble supporting Obama in large part because of his involvement in the black church community, which is one of the strongest bastions of hatred directed at me because I am a gay person. Obama already blew the gays off for Donnie McClurkin. That is completely relevant here, and he failed to address it. In a world where the NAACP gives an award to Isaiah Washington after he becomes one of the world's most famous bigots, Obama's tepid and occasional mentions of homophobia in the black community are not enough.

    Posted by: Landon Bryce | Mar 18, 2008 2:44:37 PM


    I'd forgotten about the Washington thing and the NAACP award. huh....interesting.

    Posted by: silverskreen | Mar 18, 2008 2:58:22 PM

  15. Landon, Obama's denomination is extremely pro-gay and Wright himself has often spoken out against anti-gay bigotry.

    So is what you're really saying that you will never vote for a black person because some blacks are anti-gay bigots?

    Shall I assume then that you never vote? Because the world is full of anti-gay bigots of every color, race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

    Posted by: 24play | Mar 18, 2008 3:05:06 PM

  16. LANDON,

    They may deny that there are black gay people, but they certainly DON'T deny that there are black "faggots and punks".

    LANDON, gay-bashing and homophobic attacks are basically INTRAracial activiities. When it comes to politics (referenda, anti-gay initiatives)--that's when the black and white gay communities have conflict. Even with that, many black Democratic officials still have pro-gay voting records which puts them at odds with many in the black church community. That is exactly what Barack Obama did a couple weeks ago! He had no politically sound reason to chastise a black chuch congregation about how "un-Christian" their hatred of gay people was. But he did, and didn't get much credit for it from many gays--so it appears. Like I said, obviously, he had no sound reason to do it.

    SILVERSKEEN, after your response to my comment, I googled "lynching, race riots, Reconstruction, Mary Turner, etc..."--just to assure myself that I wasn't being too emotional & unyielding on this subject. After visiting a few sites I'm even more convinced that no Black American should ever need Barack Obama to explain to us what Reverend Wright was talking about in his sermons.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Mar 18, 2008 3:18:36 PM


    (1) To Landon and other folks who have issues about "black homophobia": there are bigots of all stripes. There are plenty of black ones. However, I am surprised as why anti-gay prejudice from a black person somehow gets wrapped up in race where a white anti-gay person is simply anti-gay? Why does the entire "black church community" have to pay the freight? Why isn't the concern directed at the "church community" generally. When I last checked, most of the major religions in the world have some issue with homosexuality. Is it any wonder that black people who would go to church might have an issue given that teaching.

    And exactly how many black people need to say something pro gay for the entire black community not have the anti-gay albatross laid around its neck? Coretta Scott King supported gay rights. Al Sharpton (a minister) supported gay marriage when he ran for president. The Congressional Black Caucus got an award from HRC for being supportive on gay issues. Hell, my former boss who is an african american second generation minister knew I was gay before I took the job and was totally cool. Black people are individuals like everyone else and I think it's a more than a little racist to talk about them as one group. If the Klan burns a cross on someone's lawn, it's the individuals that are racist. If a black person says something or does something, the black "community" pays the freight. That's NOT cool.

    (2) BEN: the credit card thing is so true. I've seen it happen and people try to pretend like they didn't do anything. One clerk tried to excuse asking for ID by saying it was because the person paid with an AMEX and not another credit card. I was like, um, dude. I'm a lawyer and I've negotiated an agreement with Amex. By those contracts, you have to accept AMEX on the same basis as other credit cards. So, if you don't need ask for I.D. for a VISA, you cannot ask for one for AMEX. It's sad because prejudice is so endemic that people don't even think about it. Good for you for calling attention to it. Even if they didn't get it, they will hopefully think twice about doing it again. That could save one other person from the psychic pain of having to go through what your ex went through.

    Posted by: Brandon | Mar 18, 2008 3:32:36 PM

  18. "If you want to ogle some cutie then gash out your eye.

    If you want to masturbate then cut off your hand.

    The Jews are the chosen people and gentiles are inferior. (going so far as to call a gentile woman beggig for a miracle a "dog")

    If your mother doesn't love me then kill her with a sword.

    If you are my enemy then you will burn in a lake of fire for eternity."

    Jesus sumed up

    All preaching is whack and any xtian condeming the rhetoric of rev wright (who has always suported gay marriage by the way) just because Obama isn't there prefered canddate, needs to check their hypocricy at the door.

    All religons are anti somebody, somethig, and epecialy anti democratic america.

    Judaism hates america because it calls for jews to seperate from gentiles and keep seperate = anti-democratic. Might as well round them up then

    Islam and xtianity hate america because they can not and will not accept plurality= undemocratic = round em all up

    Budhism hates america because we are a capitalist society which is the opposite of anti-materialsm true budhism


    Round em all up.

    Oh wait. It only works when it is your not prefered candidate's crazy preacher. When it is your crazy ass religion then it is all good.


    Hillry is behind in the delegate race and can't catch up no matter what.

    She is behind 700,000 in the popular vote and can't catch up barring Obama screwing a boy on tv while strangeling him.

    Get over it already and stop blowing up this non scandal into a kurfufle in the hopes of "?????what????" There is no hope for Hillary to be at the top of th ticket.

    The supers will not overtrn the will of the people.

    Hell, the sermon most in question was spoken back in 2002 when most hillary supporters were themselves saying "God damn america and God damn bush". A sermon that Obama in fact wasn't even there for. He was in Miami as per video tape proof.

    If there is a scandal it is that all candidates to get elected in america
    must go to church or synagogue = temples of ignorance.

    Now where the hell are Hillary's tax papers?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    Posted by: Jimmyboyo | Mar 18, 2008 3:33:22 PM


    This thread is specifically about the Obama speech and my comment about how people will react to it was only in respect to this specific speech, not to the campaign in general. I agree that people's minds are set on both sides and few people are going to change their minds at this point. I really resent your misstating what my comment said and then calling the statement I didn’t make laughable and pathetic. That is the very definition of a straw man and it is exactly why the discourse of this campaign has turned so venomous.

    Is it not possible for Democrats to disagree with each other without making ad hominem attacks and trying to draw blood from their own?

    Is there ANYONE here (other than Republicans) who thinks that this in is our best interest? Is there ANYONE here willing to change the dialogue?

    People may dislike or hate Obama and they may think that his speech was insincere but I don't think anyone can deny that he was right when he said we have to change the dialogue, we have to change the way we talk to each other and we have to change the way we deal with differences.

    I am willing to pledge here and now that I will reserve ALL of my future political attacks for our TRUE opponent John McCain. I will continue to support my candidate of choice and tell people why I support him. I will continue to defend him when I think he has been wrongly attacked. I WILL NOT attack Hillary supporters by belittling them, or using ad hominem attacks against them (I don't think I ever have). I will continue to point out where I disagree with them but ALWAYS in a civil and respectful way (it CAN be done).

    We aren’t going to be able to change the rest of the blogosphere but it would be nice to have just one port in the storm to be able to have political discussions without coming away bloodied and enraged. Out of respect for each other and out of respect for Andy, I would like for that place to be Towleroad.

    Everyone has a choice as to what contribution they want to make in these discussions and anyone who doesn’t like the tenor and tone of these discussions has the right and ability to refrain from reading them. If the tone and tenor of these political discussions doesn’t change then I will make the choice to remove myself from them.

    I will support whichever candidate wins the Democratic nomination. I think both would make great presidents. I’m just not willing to lose friends and fond acquaintances over the hair’s bit of difference between the two. I’m really amazed at how many people seem to be willing to do just that. And this is all over who is the best DEMOCRAT. I can’t imagine that the general election could possibly be worse than the last month.

    PS. I take back what I said about the speech not changing any minds. While I was typing this very long comment my 70+ year old aunt from Mississippi, who was an ardent and longtime Hillary supporter and who had completely bought into the rumor that Obama was a Muslim, called me up. I fully expected her to be calling to rub this Obama/Wright thing in my face. To my COMPLETE surprise she told me that the speech had changed her mind and that she is now supporting Obama. I just about fell out of my chair. She was really struck by his interest in changing the way we address racism and other social ills and this is coming from a woman that I suspect still has a bit of racism just below the surface. Maybe this speech is going to have a greater affect than I thought it would. I certainly hope it does.

    Posted by: Zeke | Mar 18, 2008 3:36:37 PM

  20. DERRICK, you, sir, are a gentleman and a scholar. I always look forward to what you have to say, and today especially, you never disappoint.

    Posted by: Sami | Mar 18, 2008 3:40:41 PM


    Let me be clear. I don't need Senator Obama or anyone else, for that matter, to explain to me what Rev. Wright said. I'm perfectly aware of what he said, where he said it and what he meant. He's free to do so as he pleases - more power to him.

    My questions where to Senator Obama and his judgment to associate himself with someone who makes these divisive statements. Then denying he had any knowledge of the Rev.'s views, only to say today he knew and strongly opposed them...but didn't distance himself. I find that those actions speak directly to his judgment and the weight I can apply to his words to the contrary.

    So, google judgment and you won't find a picture of Obama as a good definition.

    Posted by: silverskreen | Mar 18, 2008 3:47:00 PM

  22. RE: there are bigots of all stripes. There are plenty of black ones. However, I am surprised as why anti-gay prejudice from a black person somehow gets wrapped up in race where a white anti-gay person is simply anti-gay? Why does the entire "black church community" have to pay the freight? Why isn't the concern directed at the "church community" generally.

    I'd like to add something that I see alluded to, but not stated in regard to this hostility toward the 'black church community.' That hostility, frankly, is a result of WHITE gay MEN being bashed by BLACK people. White men control the world, gay or straight. They are not socialized or accustomed to being the object of derision. Hence, the overarching drama of 'coming out.' (And further revealing why it's even worse for black men - already oppressed and now saddled with a secondary oppression point.) I did not realize this until I went to a family dinner with my previously mentioned black ex-bf. The wife of his mother's minister would not shake my hand. She wouldn't even look at me directly. She'd look at my ex, then me with this look of complete disgust. I was taken aback and enraged at that same time. How dare she? Who is she, how is she morally superior to me to behave so, etc etc. Only after I de-compartmentalized the experience did I realize the sad state of the situation, my own expectations (re: biases) at work, and the need for me to move past it without holding it against any future 'black church person' I might encounter.

    Posted by: Ben | Mar 18, 2008 3:48:30 PM

  23. Zeke, I'm so glad to hear about your aunt. Do you think you could possibly persuade her to leave Mississippi and move to Missouri or Virginia or Pennsylvania or Ohio? Before September, of course.

    Posted by: 24play | Mar 18, 2008 3:49:10 PM

  24. Something funny

    A month ago Obama was a muslim bent on destroying america and israel.

    NOW those who dont like him (the same that swore he was a muslim) have tied him so tight to one preacher and say that he is most definetly a radical afro-centric xtian.

    Next month if it serves the purpose of the obama haters he will be a die hard hindu bent on destroying amrican farmers ad ranchers


    Hillary supporters

    What exactly is your hoe?

    She can't get the delegates

    She is behind 700,000 in the popular ote and a 15% win in Pensylvania will only get her 100,000-200,000 more than Obama. Beating him in the popular vote is impossible

    The supers who haven't comited have all pretty much said they will NEVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! go againt the pledged delegates and or popular vote

    What exactly are you hoping for?

    The only logical explenations are
    -racism against a black man
    -wanting to harm obama enough that mccain winsand hilary can tryagain 2012
    -jut spite

    What exactly are you hoping for?

    Because there is no logical hope of Hillary being at the top of the ticket.

    Posted by: Jimyboyo | Mar 18, 2008 3:50:49 PM

  25. Furthermore, as I catch up with the ensuing comments, it seems holding Sen. Obama accountable for all of Rev. Wright's negative statements is akin to holding every Catholic on Earth accountable for every nasty thing the Catholic Church hierarchy has ever done, including the abuse of young children. That doesn't seem wise or reasonable in either situation.

    Posted by: Ben | Mar 18, 2008 3:53:45 PM

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