Obama's Speech on Race

Watch the whole thing here. My reactions to follow, once I've seen it! Here's the transcript.

Or, if you prefer, here's CNN's version of, I assume, the full speech. (The previous link is to C-SPAN.)

First thought: why aren't other candidates asked to justify their connection to, say, the Falwells of the world, with the same force and frenzy?

Second: what is so terrible about the notion that American foreign policy set the stage for 9/11? It's called "blowback," and I don't see white scholars, left (Chalmers Johnson) or right (Michael Scheuer), getting flak for that.


Assuming these are accurate, let's take a look:

All Quotes Attributed to Pastor Jeremiah Wright

“We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye.”

“We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” (Sep 2001)
True. Right-wingers like Michael Scheuer have made much the same points.

“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.” (2003)
"Gives them drugs" is a bit much (on the intentionality tip, even with CIA cocaine smuggling). All else seems right to me.

“In the 21st century, white America got a wake-up call after 9/11/01. White America and the western world came to realize that people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just ‘disappeared’ as the Great White West kept on its merry way of ignoring black concerns.” (magazine article)
Don't see the exact connection between blacks and Al Qaida, but if you interpret this as White West and Non-White Non-West, it's not too off. In fact, announcing a confrontational "clash of civilizations" is perfectly acceptable -- whether you agree with it or not (I don't) -- so why is this so horrifying?

“Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run!…We [in the U.S.] believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God.” (sermon)
First part: Incontrovertibly true. Laughable that anyone denies this. As for "how this country is still run," definitely true to some extent. As for the last part, not everyone believes this, but, ironically, the explosion of outrage over these comments, especially when compared with silence on McCain's courting of far-right White preachers who have serious political power ... well, he may have a statistically accurate point.

“Barack knows what it means living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people. Hillary would never know that. Hillary ain’t never been called a nigger. Hillary has never had a people defined as a non-person.”

“Hillary is married to Bill, and Bill has been good to us. No he ain’t! Bill did us, just like he did Monica Lewinsky. He was riding dirty.” (sermon)
True. See welfare "reform" and crime bills from The Golden Age of Bill Clinton.

“The Israelis have illegally occupied Palestinian territories for over 40 years now. Divestment has now hit the table again as a strategy to wake the business community and wake up Americans concerning the injustice and the racism under which the Palestinians have lived because of Zionism.”
100% true.

So, what's the problem, again? Obama did the politically correct thing, maintaining his "black vote" while calming whites over racist fears. Some of the speech was appalling, e.g.:

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.
Another disgusting point was when he stated that affirmative action and busing are "bad"; and that white "resentment" is equal to black "resentment" about slavery and Jim Crow (which is all behind us now, except for a few touch-ups). Very clever double-level speech: as I said, calm the whites, keep the blacks on your side. He's a very good politician.

Other aspects of the speech were better, I must say: "inclusive" and all that. Especially this part:
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.
* * *

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.