Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Speech on Race and More

(Photo of Obama from AP)

Yes, it was a great speech and I think most agree it broke new ground taking on racial issues in a way that every person in America who can should read or watch. The fact that Obama's heritage is both African and Caucasian American and that he is married to an African American woman makes the speech even more profound and interesting as he personally straddles so many different aspects of the race issue. It was a great speech; however, I would not go as far as Chris Matthews who said something like this speech was of the same caliber an an Abraham Lincoln speech and way surpassed Martin Luther King's "I had a Dream" notion because he said Obama not only had a dream, he has lived the dream." Truth be told Obama has not lived long enough yet to know what dreams he will fulfill. Obviously, in a tokenistic way he has come a long way. However, when a person runs for President, he or she is expected to fulfill our public dreams or at least some dreams that most of us have had i.e. getting us all health insurance, ending strife and war, and uniting a divided nation which Obama promises to do or should I say has the promise to do. I know this is going to sound a little bit strange but I came away from both reading the speech Obama gave to the nation and listening to and watching it on Huffington Post with even a greater curiosity than I have had before about Obama's white grandmother. Since I read Obama's book Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance , I have wondered why the media has not interviewed her in more depth. Reporters have gone all the way to Kenya to do mini documentaries on Obama's African grandmother.

Now we know since the speech that Obama's white grandmother has racist stereotypes that she has uttered in front of her grandson when he was younger i.e. expressing for instance her fear of Black men when walking on the same street. He didn't add when walking alone or late at night. Lots of white women and women in general have this fear which I think is taught to us by a historically white dominated segment of society in order for that segment to avoid blame for the worst kind of sexism in action-rape. Obama said and I am paraphrasing here.. that (he) would no more distance himself from his white grandmother who has made racial remarks than he will distance himself from Reverend Wright, the minister who married him and who baptised his two daughters and who also made strongly worded negative comments about this country and white people in general.

Reverend Jeramiah Wright, of course, is the subject of the speech and the reason for it. Since it came out in the media that Obama's minister has been quoted as making what is being interpreted as anti-American and anti-white remarks in several of his speeches to large audiences. Back to my curiosity about Obama's white grandmother are these questions that rightly or wrongly remain in my mind. Is Obama somewhat alienated from her because she just doesn't get "Black America", because she doesn't fit in with his long sought persona as a Black man in America? Is he close to this grandmother and we just don't know it. Is Obama just trying to protect an "old" woman from the amoral and insidious media. Did he just grow apart from his family in Hawaii (that would include his sister who he has talked about on more than several occasions that I know about) because his new life in Chicago for the past twenty years just took over his life. Was it more politically correct for African Americans and Whites to see him with his Black family. Would the spectre of the interracialness of Obama upset some applecart and alienate him from whom-white racists?-black racists? I just don't know the answer to these questions?

Up to the time of the speech, Obama has resisted the temptation to deal with issues of race. Now he has more than just dealt with the issue of race and its impact on every American and in addition explains his decision to condemn the words that Rev. Wright has spoken over the years that he strongly disagrees with and also to not to reject the man who he sees as a mentor and friend. (I am paraphrasing here & only sharing the crux of what I heard)... Obama says rejecting Rev. Wright would be the same symbolically speaking as him rejecting the Black community which also comes with both its great riches as well as its flaws and weaknesses. Obama admits that he has heard Rev. Wright say things in Church he strongly disagrees with.

What I heard the man saying is that he got a lot spiritually out of going to this Church and he values the person who is Rev. Wright. He looks the other way at the ignorance that is sometimes projected. I wonder why or if Obama ever spoke up about any of the differences he saw through this long period (20 years it seems). I know I would have if the same happened to me in Temple and if I disagreed strongly with the Rabbi, I would have brought up the differences. I also probably would have left that Temple. One of the untruths supposedly espoused by Rev. Wright that I heard about had to do with Rev. Wright's views in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. It appears that Rev. Wright agreed with some of his contemporaries that the AIDS virus was a conspiracy thought up by a white dominated system and carried out by "elite" medical researchers to kill off large number of Black people. I am not sure if this thinking extended to Gay people because back then, the rumor mill tried to blame Gay people for the existence and spread of AIDS and thought it was God's will and way to eliminate this segment of the population. I would like to know more about Wright's connection to this way of thinking given he is viewed today as a humanist who helps people who have HIV or AIDS.

Personally, I don't find people criticizing what America is or is not a problem so that is not a big issue. In other more progressive nations, people are allowed to be frustrated and angry at their country. In Sweden, Denmark, and Holland, even in England people who flag wave and who are overly patriotic are made fun of. A true democracy would not be afraid of a Rev. Jeremiah Wright. However, for practical reason, Obama has to walk a fine line between proving he is a true patriot and also showing he is a legitimate African American who embraces his identity as a Black person in America. He claims he wants Republicans even conservative ones as well as all kinds of Democrats and others to support him. You don't get most conservative Republicans to support you unless you wave the flag a lot. You don't get Black Americans who are one of the major backbones of the Democratic Party to support you if you turn your back on a popular and dedicated minister in their midst. If you did, you would be known as an Uncle Tom or turncoat. I do believe Obama is not just catering to these various groups. I think Obama acted as he believes and has shown the courage of his convictions. It is just that his conviction tend to coincide with political reality that is required. There will be those zealots and just plain reactionary forces and unjustifiably overly patriotic types who reject Obama out of hand because he did not reject Rev. Jeremiah Wright but I figure most of these types would be in the McCain or Huckabee or further to the right camps anyway.

Where does all of this leave Hillary? At this point in the race, I don't see a lot of places for her to go except to the States that are left to participate in the Democratic Primary. Since it appears even if she wins by huge margins from here on out, Obama will still be ahead in the delegate count if not the popular vote though as of now he has both in his pocket. Should Hillary attempt to make a speech that parallels Obama's? I know she could make a good one on gender but everyone tells me that would not be welcomed as 49% of the population might be offended by the prospect of rubbing the fact that sexism exists in America in their faces. She could also quell fears people have expressed about Clintons in the White House but talking about the future she wants for America: a future that is somewhat different from the kind of world she spent time creating in the nineties when Bill Clinton was in office. Could she rise to the occasion. We know she can and has. Should Hillary do this I will leave up to the more experienced practitioners of politics that follow her cause.

Has Obama left Hillary in the dustbin of history? As they say never count her out. She is still gaining supporters: yet so is Obama. Hillary is gaining in the big states with all the strong blue collar voters. This makes me uneasy. Do I want some of the same people who tended to vote for the Reagan revolution being the primary backers of Hillary besides old white women of whom I am one of, by the way? I am uneasy and wonder where this can all possibly end. I am still supporting Hillary. I hope she will prevail but I do wonder if Obama can help this country in ways she just cannot. Sexism seems to be winning. I do think Hillary has to show she is for change. She has to show that she will stand up against the corporate greedy giants that take and take and take. She is against the military industrial complex that Eisenhower once warned us about. The only good warning I ever remember a Republican saying and that at the end of a totally do nothing administration. She has to show that she can bring the economy going in the right direction. Perhaps, this Obama speech will be a new beginning for her. She has a chance to be creative again.

But in the end, it may come to the point where Hillary has to bow out and if and when she does, I hope it will feel right. If Obama goes down and the reverse happens, I "pray" it will not be because the country is not ready for a man convinced he can bridge the racial and class divides we have in this country.

Sharon Raphael