Speech on Race - Barack Obama, 2008
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
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
“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.
+1 anno fa
Dispensa per il corso di Storia degli Stati Uniti d'America del prof. Daniele Fiorentino. Trattasi del discorso pronunciato dall'allora senatore degli Stati Uniti Barack Obama a Philadelphia il 18 marzo del 2008, all'interno del quale egli affronta il tema della democrazia e dell'integrazione delle razze.
I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher Atreyu di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Storia degli Stati Uniti d'America e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Roma Tre - Uniroma3 o del prof Fiorentino Daniele.
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