Friday, March 21, 2008

The (w)Right Speech

As we know, Barack Obama went from being "not black enough" to being "too black" -- and unlike his SNL character, he didn't have any make up applied to darken his complexion. All it took were the words of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his paster at Trinity United Church of Christ, to appear in print and on radio, TV and the internet. See Point, Counter-Point.

Obama then gave his speech here in the City of Brotherly Love on race, which was favorably received by many in the main stream media, You, sir, are no Mitt Romney. As Nicolas Kristoff of the NYTimes said, Obama and Race:

Barack Obama this week gave the best political speech since John Kennedy talked about his Catholicism in Houston in 1960, and it derived power from something most unusual in modern politics: an acknowledgment of complexity, nuance and legitimate grievances on many sides. It was not a sound bite, but a symphony.

But the furor over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory sermons shows that Mr. Obama erred in an earlier speech — the 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention that catapulted him to fame.

In that speech, Mr. Obama declared that “there is not a black America and a white America... . There’s the United States of America.” That’s a beautiful aspiration, and we’re making progress toward it. But this last week has underscored that we’re not nearly there yet.

This dichotomy is discussed in a Boston Globe piece, Obama's odyssey on race. In an ironic way, Obama's experience in the campaign parallels his experience throughout his life:

From the moment Barack Obama first inserted himself into black life in Chicago, he bore the hallmarks of an outsider: light skin; Ivy League education; international background; and views on race, history, and country that were at odds with the aggrieved worldview of much of the city's black community.

On the streets of the South Side, where the Black Panther movement, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson flowered, Obama was mocked as a dispossessed newcomer who failed to grasp the historical urgency of the black struggle. "The white man in blackface," a political rival once called him.

Though Obama would later convince many black skeptics of his commitment to justice and equality, he made clear he would not be bound by their antagonism toward the white power structure.

Despite charges of being not black enough, Obama has remained true to his principles of race relations, the same views he espouses today. Yet, he didn't turn his back on his community either, notwithstanding his more privileged background. It is this relationship that is the basis for the charges that he is too much a part of that community:

Today, Obama is under attack from the other end of the spectrum, accused of tacitly endorsing the Afro-centrism and deeply critical views of America expressed by his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. To those who know Obama and have followed the arc of his career, the charge makes little sense against a man they have long considered a beacon of a colorblind future.

But to critics, Obama's decision to associate himself for 20 years with a church that preaches black nationalism - an association that once helped establish his credibility in the black community - prompts serious questions about his patriotism, judgment, and allegiances.

Ahh yes. And there's the irony:
As Hopkins and others familiar with Obama's career watched his speech Tuesday, they were struck by the irony that a politician once considered too beholden to the establishment would now be condemned as such a threat to it.

"It's one extreme or another," said Naseem Abdul-Majib, a barber who knows Obama from his Hyde Park neighborhood. "Barack is balanced. Just like he stated in his speech, his story is a story you couldn't find anywhere else but here. It's a success story."
So, what does it all mean and where do we go with all this? For the man with all the answers, let's see what Jon Stewart thinks:

And then, since this is such a complicated issues, there's Part 2.

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