I’m small enough to admit that I may have been wrong. I am not so entrenched in my ideology that I cannot bend to another person’s idea. With that said, I have to admit to being heavily politically seduced by Barack Obama’s speech on race relations. It was not a speech that called for the public to vote for him for he alone is the key to America’s salvation. It was a speech that called for all of America to come to terms with the racial dysfunction that continues to permeate our country, black and white people alike.
I have to confess that I am suspect of any white person that claims they know how black people feel. Racially speaking, after well over two hundred thirty years of white rule and domination this country is no different that it was in the beginning when the institution of slavery was in its heyday. Through the use of any and every measure used to measure disparity, black people must endure losing in the comparison. White people say no one helped them when they were struggling to make it. White people regularly talk about preferential treatment for black people. I still have yet to find any example of black preference by any corporate or educational institution. Saying twenty percent of the opportunities must be reserved exclusively for racial and gender minorities means that eighty percent of the opportunities go to white males. Eighty percent sounds like white males have more than their fair share of preferential treatment. My personal opinion is that individual white people may have issues with rather narrow and self serving specifics in America, but the problems of disparity in the black community are widespread and common to black people.
For a long time people both black and white have claimed that racially insensitive remarks could help spark a conversation about the racial divide. It happened after Don Imus referred to the women’s basketball team of Rutger’s University nappy headed ho’s. It happened after Duane Chapman goes on record saying he hates soulless niggers. But the resulting conversation is never a meaningful or respectful one. It usually runs along the lines of black people need to get their house in order before taking white people to task for being insensitive. Black parents need to talk to their kids and ask them how was their day if black people want to improve conditions in the black community. Somehow talking to our kids is going to enable black people to find jobs, obtain medical care, get more funding for black community schools, and the like. Or, this dialog will run along the lines of black people need to get over themselves. No one cares. No offense but that’s just the way it is.
But after outlandish racially insensitive charges from Geraldine Ferraro that Mr. Obama has nothing going for him but his skin color and excerpts from a sermon from Mr. Obama’s spiritual teacher the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Mr. Obama found himself at the racial crossroads. Too many people from the dominant culture found Reverend Wright’s statements too offensive to trust Mr. Obama. In order to win their trust Mr. Obama has to sacrifice his relationship with the man that performed his wedding ceremony to his wife Michelle and who baptized his two daughters. The dominant culture wanted to see Mr. Obama sacrifice his relationship with an old friend so that they could feel safer voting for Mr. Obama. His hands were tied. He had to say something.
Mr. Obama is well known as a master of speech making. We just didn’t know how well until he made this speech. Like many black people, Mr. Obama is walking a tight line between his racial identity and his national identity. Black people have always loved their country. Yes there are times that we have to throw our hands in the air and scream with rage and even fight the powers that be because of the disparity that comes at the hands of the dominant community hell bent on keeping us from succeeding. Even the late great Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., the greatest icon of the civil rights movement, said that he was wrong about integration into the American whole. Dr. King compared black people integrating into America to integrating into a burning house.
But politics and politicians are quick to do what is most expedient for getting votes. I fully expected Mr. Obama to bow to pressure and denounce his old friend. I was surprised to see Mr. Obama stand by his mentor and his friend. I was surprised to hear Mr. Obama reveal that this white grandmother would use racial and ethnic slurs in front of him, but he loved her and he knew without a doubt that she loved him back. I was surprised to hear that Mr. Obama could no more disassociate himself from his pastor than he could disassociate himself from the black community. I was encouraged to see Mr. Obama stand by his friend, stand by his family, stand by his community, and make a plea to the rest of his country that we make the effort to put this bias behind us and come together.
Mr. Obama has always claimed that he could reach to the other side of the aisle and help mend fences. When he made that statement my first thought was that he was talking politically and that he would be willing to reach across the aisle and embrace members of the Republican Party. But then he said he would be willing to reach out to other countries, even ones that were formerly known as the axis of evil, and work to mend fences. But now I know, unequivocally, that he can reach across the racial divide and mend fences there as well. A lot of people knew this before I did. A lot of people, both black and white, knew what they were doing when they were voting for Barack Obama. I’m glad they did.
Mr. Obama came to the crossroad and he took a step. He could’ve taken the easy route. A lot of people will continue to reject Mr. Obama for superficial reasons. He didn’t reject Reverend Wright outright, he didn’t reject him fast enough, he betrayed his grandmother, he didn’t wear the right colored necktie, or he continues to not wear an American flag lapel pin. But these people would have rejected him no matter what. Some radio pundit made the suggestion that he waited too long to say anything about this and now it is all too late. But America has been waiting for almost four centuries for someone to say something positive about race relations. Somebody else made the statement that no matter what he says in his speeches they wouldn’t trust Barack Obama. Surprise, surprise that people would take this attitude in this country. But while other people may see this as being too late I found the words very timely. I am small enough to say that I may have been wrong.