Below is a light critique of the Obama speech. It's a more expanded version of the live blog entry of the speech. This only contains certain portions of the speech. Commentary may be updated later for grammar or readability issues. I just can't look at this any longer today.
“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.
Well as a matter of fact, the original sin of America was not slavery but the slaughter of the Native American. It was after the Native American helped the colonists survive by showing them corn and Turkey and such, they were thanked by taking of land, purposeful illness (what we call biological warefare) reservations and numerous broken treaties. It is a fact that before the African was considered for labour in the new world the Native American was first used and abused. The African slave trade was brought about in large part due to the fact that the African was largely immune to European diseases.
The second, very glaring problem here is that women were clearly left out of this "meeting of men". Of course a full analysis of that founding meeting would reveal it's very, umm, undemocratic intentions.
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.
Well, historically correct, though it took amendments to said Constitution to get to that equal citizenship. Recall that not every citizen was meant to be equal under the constitution. It is interesting, and notable that Obama does not quote the Declaration of Independence, which has statements regarding the Native American that round quite counter to the "All men are created equal" argument. But this is a political speech and such things are well, not helpful. but anyway. The above would be one of the more factual and correct statements.
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.
Here lies one of the more problematic themes in this speech. Understanding that America, unlike most any other country on the planet is supposed to be founded on guiding ideas. That is, it is not a country of people of common ancestry as is England, France, etc. Rather an American is supposed to be defined by the adherence to the ideas of the Constitution. They are supposed to be motivated by the equality of everyone before the law and the constriction of government power over it's citizens and that the government exists and rules only by the consent of those governed. What Obama did in his presentation is posit the idea that an American is the sum of the amalgamation of people and that he, by virtue of being an embodiment of that genetic amalgamation represents the "real" America. it is an argument I hear from a great deal of people who happen to be of obvious multiple race inheritance. He then presents that argument as "unique" to America. In fact that amalgam can be seen in Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and any other colonial land. In fact it can be seen in England and France to an extent (we are missing the direct slave holders there though).
Most Americans are more ignorant of the history of people outside the US than they are of history of the people in the United States so they cannot readily dissect this particular argument. A question that could be asked of Obama is if he feels so attached to these ancestors of his, why identify as black or African-American at all? If one is supposedly "post-race" then no need to even ID with any particular group when you are not, in fact a part of said group. Of course that leads to some very uncomfortable questions about one drop rules and who's black and he doesn't want to go there, and neither do a lot of other people.
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.
Well, it's nice he mentioned South Carolina, where the Confederate flag still flies. If it bothers him so much why not have said something about it when they were up for voting? Not politically expedient? I understand. In South Carolina, black folks voted Obama for a few reasons:
1) They saw that white folks in Iowa would vote for this black candidate.
2) They were pissed off at the distorted comment about MLK and LBJ
3) Blacks want to vote in a Black president and have wanted to since Jesse Jackson ran (No disrespect to Shirley Chisolm).
The white vote was largely split between the white candidates just as they were in Miss. Many of thew whites that have voted for Obama are on him specifically because of his white mother. That makes him safe. It's documented. Other white people see Obama as the Anti-Sharpton and the Anti-Jackson. the assention of Obama represents to them a means of killing off uncompromising black leadership, that's leadership made by black folk, not white folk and the media.
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.
Well the "too black" commentaries which I assume to have come from white sources since I've yet to meet a black person who claims that Obama is "too black" is clearly a white set-up for Obama failure based on race. The "not black enough" comment goes directly to the issue of the white mother and the obviously non-black upbringing. Now the Black-Brown thing is well politics, you'll note that black-brown wont' come up again.
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.
Well who knows on the "affirmative action" part. I agree that, as discussed earlier white folk are hoping to shut down or take control of the racial conversation by dealing with a black person who is seen as amenable to their emotional need. How much I can't say. This does not mean that I think Obama is unqualified to run a country. He's certainly more qualified than Bush and has, in my opinion, better academic qualifications, but the "affirmative action" argument is based in part on the idea that white people lower the standards for black people. And so the idea is that the media has to, up until now, given Obama the "easy" treatment. It is definitely a racial argument but that's where it comes from.
Now on Wright. I think Obama makes a huge mistake by calling Wright's comments as denigrating to America. The fact is that the comments that Wright has made are factual. Whether you like it or not. Whether it makes a person comfortable or not. And this comfort level is where the speech really goes south as we will discuss.
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.
OK. Lots of ground to cover here. We see Obama going from the "I wasn't there" response to the sure I heard this stuff before response. The latter being honest, the former a bald face lie. Now the problem for Obama is that like NAFTA, he can be portrayed as saying whatever he needs to say to remain politically viable. However; that's really not where I want to go right now. You'll note that he does not address which political views he "strongly disagrees" with. Perhaps that will come up in the general election cycle should he become the Democratic nominee. But in terms of race and racial viewpoints, as I said before, it's not whether you agree or disagree it is about whether the statements are true or not. That is what is important. That's what is important if were are dealing with principle rather than feeling. That's what is about when you are a constitutional American, rather than simply an "ethnic group" American.
It is simply wrong to say that in at least the clips shown of Wright, that he was discussing "perceived" injustices. When he discusses US policy in the Middle East he is talking about actual injustices. When he discusses drugs being shipped into black communities, and a justice system that targets blacks for prison and the like, these aren't imaginary things. These are actual factual injustices. By using the term perceived Obama is providing white America with cover.
When US bombs are used to level Lebanon, that is injustice. When we provide arms to Israel who uses it to bomb Palestinians who have been raped of their property and land, that is actual injustices. You see, this is what is missing from Obama's world view. You see, by excluding the Native American from his presentation and ignoring that great injustice called "reservations" and the trail of tears, once can then side with the colony that is Israel. But if you are aware of, and mindful of the injustice done to the first peoples of America, then you cannot stand by the actions of the Zionist entity. I wrote about this last week. It is a scary thought of a black man signing the paper that delivers the bomb that is dropped on the people who had the back of the ANC.
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.
Again, wrong? Absolutely not. More comfort for white folk. Wright wasn't being divisive and I'll go further and say Farrakhan wasn't being divisive when they brought up the issues. And as a matter of fact, "radical" blacks like Wright and myself have been discussing healthcare, wars (more than two), terrorism, the failing economy and climate change for a long ass time. Problem is that white folk feel they can ignore us. The problem isn't us and it is insulting for Obama to act as if blacks are part of the problem. Some blacks are a part of the problem and we know who they are (Rice, Powell) but the "radical" black person has been and will continue to be on the vanguard of calls for fundamental changes to the system that would benefit everyone. That Obama can't make that argument is indicative of either his ignorance of that position OR his willingness to mis-represent them for his own ends.
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.
Well some real data. Thanks Obama. Now how many of us have been writing and saying this? For how long? And where were the cameras?
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.
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.
While the anger argument is nice and fits into the idea that black people, and black men in particular, are just seething pools of anger just waiting to boil over. The problem is that among many of us, those of us who have never had a fire hose put on us, or been forced to go to a segregated school, but by learning the facts, by being honest with ourselves that we must forcefully confront the issue of racism. Many of us, including myself are not poor, never were poor. Many of us are educated, never been to jail, won't be going to jail. We own homes, we have nice cars, we have relatively high net worths. We don't take for granted what we have, but we won't be bought, we won't be sold. So lets clear this up we are emotionally stable and analytical and painting us as angry, seething and emotional is simply out of order.
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.
The great equivalence argument. I hate it. I hate it because it is so wrong, on so many levels. That white Americans don't feel that they have been "particularly privileged by their race" is well, irrelevant to the facts on the ground. When researchers can find that white applicants for employment enjoy a higher callback rate, or that a white applicant with a criminal record is more likely to be interviewed for a job than a black person with no criminal record AND a college degree, then white folks who don't think they have privileged are simply out of touch with reality. That's a problem they need to work on.
Oh and this immigrant experience, yes that would be, a generation of "no Italians" and "No Irish" and whatnot. Next generation, the signs come down, the neighborhoods are created and now accepted, they too step on blacks. Does anyone think that Jim Crow (and I'm going to leave slavery off the table for this) was thought up by and only implemented by anglos? Seriously? Must be the same people who think that the slave trade was only carried out by the British. "As far as they are concerned." That is the operative statement. They haven't been concerned. I wont even GET into the riots of those union workers against black labour. As far as they are concerned indeed. And those jobs being shipped overseas? Well see can't direct that anger at black folks we largely do not own those businesses. We are also the victims of those jobs shipped off overseas. And ummm, as the most unionized ethnic group in America, we've been at the forefront of fighting for US labour while these "as far as they are concerned" white folk put big business white men and women of the "conservative" credentials into office. But that is the real problem. Whites of lower and middle class stock have been voting against their interests for a long time. That's not black folk's fault.
On that whole bussing issue. Well again that was the dream of white men and knee-grows who insist that black kids need to sit next to white kids in order to learn, while all over the world people are learning quite a bit without the benefit of white children in their schools. Besides, bussing is and always has been voluntary by law.
On that "African-American" getting the good job or spot in a good college, all the data shows that Affirmative Action and all actual black enrollment at the state college level and above is in the low teens. That means that at a school like Michigan State University where there are upwards of 40,000 students approximately 13% or 5,000 may be black. Leaving a whopping 35,000 seats for white students. It is plain racist to state that African-Americans are displacing white students at universities. Similarly with employment, outside the government sector which employs the most numbers of black people, black people are disproportionally represented at the lowest rungs of businesses and the numbers decrease rapidly as one goes up the ladder. So even there, these "as far as they are concerned" white folk are simply out of touch with reality.
In terms of crime the vast majority of documented crimes involve members of the same race (a whole other discussion). Urban violence is waaaay down and has been for over a decade. The problem is that the media over-reports black crime, which makes for good news ratings. What of those 1 in 9 black men in jail? Can we saw Rockefeller laws? Can we say arrests are made where police are put? Can we say prosecution unwilling to convict white offenders of drug crimes?
So as far as I'm concerned, Obama has made a huge factual and historical mistake by attempting to equate ignorant white ideas on race and privilege to factual and documented issues that Wright and others have discussed. This is what we call pandering. I don't like it, regardless of the race or gender of the politician.
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.
Yes these "resentments" may not be expressed in polite company, but then again they are entirely out of touch with reality. Obama brought up welfare but failed to point out that white people are the largest beneficiaries of welfare (and Social Security for that matter). In terms of affirmative action, the largest beneficiaries have been white women, and by extension the white men they marry. So Obama passed on an excellent opportunity to set that record straight with these "as far as I'm concerned people.
I am pleased that Obama brought up these show hosts. He ought to have named names though.
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.
More correctly stated, white resentments over wholly imaginary offenses of non-whites distracted them from the real culprits. Again that's not black folks fault. It's not Wrights fault. It's not Sharpton's fault. It's not Jackson's fault. It's not even Farrakhan's fault. It is the fault of these 'as far as I'm concerned" white folk who think that black folk ought to shut up and sit down, who by their own self absorption and privilege, refuse to listen to black folk who speak directly and truthfully. These folk ought to talk to Tim Wise, if they can't deal with direct speaking black folk. But these imaginary issues being equal to that of black issues? Not. At. All.
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.
Well I agree that one ought not allow oneself to wallow in or allow ones past to keep one from making positive change. However Obama fails to realize that when we call for "a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life" that means foreign policy as well. That means Israel and Palestine.
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.
Well I cannot speak for Rev. Wright but I think Obama has mischaracterized him. We are fully aware that progress has been made in America. Only a moron thinks otherwise. Out issues are with the quality of the progress. We are not impressed with equal access to the voting box, if the candidates do not work for the constituents or uphold the constitution as they are supposed to. Or when those politicians pledge themselves to the protection of states that were formed illegitimately and our tax dollars go to supply said states with weapons of mass destruction. We are not impressed with school desegregation when the funding is pulled from under those same schools and the curriculum still excludes us and by us I mean all of us. We are not OK with integrated police forces that harrass us on the streets, shoot us down and get away with it. What good is sitting in the front of the bus, when if you drive you're pulled over simply because you are black or black in the "wrong neighborhood."
Nothing I've posted here (previous paragraph) is past, It is present. Again, this is an attempt to mischaracterize the issues that Wright and others have put on deck. We are not interested in cosmetic changes. We are not interested in putting a black face on American imperialism. Oh and about that run for highest office? Chavez in Venezuela and Moralez in Bolivia.....lets not get overly puffed up about US progress, 'kay?
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.
Well that would be a nice start.
The rest of the speech is campaign material, I'm not going to comment on it.