The Marc Steiner Show

3/18/08 Obama’s Speech Today

Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal

Today, I was a guest on Doni Glover’s show on WOLB.   When we finished our conversation on the air, I stumbled into their lunchroom.   Everyone was glued to CNN listening to Obama’s speech on race.  I sat down.   I became glued to the TV, to the words Obama was speaking to us all.

I don’t know how many of you heard it, but you can watch and read it here.  I have never heard a politician running for office talk about race in that manner.  He tackled it head on.

We live in a nation where race has always been at the root of our social and political discussion.   Race is at the root of our national persona.   It is complex, very complex.  Our generation, our race, our region, our gender, and our exposure other races define our feelings and sense of race as a nation.   Barak Obama clearly understands the complexity of race in America.   My own sense of him is that growing up as a Black child raised by a socially and politically open white mother, with conservative white grandparents in a white world, with an African father whom he did know, defined his own search for racial identity in America.   He lived in other cultures and saw race not just through the lens of Black and White but through Asian worlds that most non-Asian-Americans ever touch.   This is a life journey that took him, and continues to take him, wrestling with race through all its American complexities.

America needs to have this conversation with itself.  Maybe Barak Obama is the only one, at the moment, who is able to create this conversation among ourselves.

I really understood what he was saying about his minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.   White America easily dismisses Reverend Wright because they identify his words with the words of Farrakhan.  Most of us in the white world have to be willing to admit that this visceral reaction is what motivates us to become angry at the words of Reverend Wright.

Obama said he could no more turn against Reverend Wright than he could his white grandmother.   He said Reverend Wright came out of a generation that grew up in segregation and in the face of outright racial hatred in America.   He is still a distrustful and angry man.  He also said how much he learned about his faith and life from Rev. Wright.

Obama went on to say how much his white Kansas rural-raised grandmother loved him.   How much she loved this Black child in her life but how he cringed at her racist remarks.

This is life in America.   This is an America where love and family cross all those lines.  This is an America that must have a conversation with itself.

When Obama turned his conversation to the white working class of America and its frustrations, it was clear that he understands the anger of white working class Americans who feels like Black folks are getting a free ride, while they worked for everything they have.   He understands how that is all wrapped around the economic conditions they face with factories closing, mortgage foreclosures, and crumbling public schools that intensify the anger around race.

He understands the responsibility Black America must take for itself.   He called on Black fathers to come home to their children while understanding the devastation and desperation of life in the Black inner city streets of America.

He also understands that to get beyond race we need to have more than just a conversation with ourselves as Americans.  We need to rebuild our economy so that it supports stability and equality.   A nation rebuilding its infrastructure, breeding and teaching creative minds, a nation at work with decent paying jobs, a system that provides health care for all its citizens, and public schools where we feel safe and confident sending our children, just might allow us to go beyond race.  A movement fighting for this America has the power to transcend race.

I hope and pray that Big Media in America will do this speech and this conversation justice.   I am not optimistic but will jump for joy if proven wrong.   Let’s see what sound bites they use from this magnificent speech.

Let’s see if the rabid hosts of hot talk television and radio and the knee-jerk response columnists can keep their powder dry.   Let’s see if they can stop to think for a moment and help us have this conversation.

I was sitting with a dear friend at lunch (yeah, I can have lunch these days – what a novel idea) who said his liberal Jewish mother and her friends could not vote for Obama if he defended Rev Wright’s words.

The first thing that came to my mind was, how short our memories are.   His Mom is obviously part of my Dad’s generation.    I remember growing up in a world where we Jews lived in our neighborhoods apart from the rest.  It was because of discrimination against us and by our own choice to live among one another.  Non Jews were not trusted not to be anti-Semitic until we were satisfied they were not.   Goyim jokes (jokes about those who were not Jews) abounded in the community.   I grew up with cousins with numbers on their arms tattooed on by their Nazi torturers in concentration camps.   I knew that at any moment they .. the proverbial they .. could turn on us before sunset.  There is a distrust born of being a discriminated against minority.

You overcome it, you go beyond it, you fight against it, both in society and within your own being.  It is a complex thing.   I, too, understand the anger in Rev. Wright and in other dear friends of mine.   I don’t agree with it.   Race is both deep and superficial.  It means nothing in the reality of existence but it defines our every move in America.

President Clinton’s conversation on race when he was in the White House was superficial, elitist and detached.   Maybe now we can have a conversation based in the material reality of our everyday lives.  Obama’s words were eloquent but eloquence is not enough.   If he wins, he must build the America he preaches about.  If he loses, he has to build the movement he talks about.  Words of beauty will only take us so far.

I hope the substance is as powerful as the speech.   We will see.

-marc

Written by Marc Steiner

Marc Steiner

The Marc Steiner Show airs Monday thru Friday from 10AM to Noon on WEAA 88.9 FM. The show covers the topics that matter, engaging real voices, from Charm City to Cairo and beyond. Call us at 410.319.8888 or email us to participate live in the show, or share your comments on our site! Aren’t in Baltimore but want to listen? Stream the show live.


Comments

  1. The reverend speaks the truth. Now his cursing is his own opinion but the facts are the facts:

    1. hell yes, damn amerika for the treatment of negroes and others.

    2. hell yes, damn amerika for poisoning nevada and utah with radiation and killing thousands of people.

    3. hell yes, damn amerika for electing bush, faking the wmd scare, killing innocent irakis and torturing innocent people.

    4. Hell yes, the story of jesus is the story of whitie oppressing darkie. the romans were white (sort of) europeans. the aramaic culture was rather dark.

  2. I guess “truth speaker” found senator obama’s speech lacking in courage, but he is failing to recognize the damage the reverand intemperate speech will have as we seek to elect as its leader Barack Obama, this country, despite its worst efforts as the “truth seeker” sees it (and which I in part can agree) should have not rght to be able to consider. Such absolutism as that of the “truth seeker” will not allow us to analyze, progress and transcend.

    As David Simon put it so well about our country right now, I doubt that we can even define the nature of our many problems. We are lost in rhetoric and but-covering and lying on such a monumental scale, that our democracy can not act. Barack Obama offers us the chance to see the pain of every community and to redefine our political arguments in a manor more amenable to reconciliation, cooperation and yes-change. Defend the Pastor for all his words and we can lose this opportunity to redirect the country on a more holistic course.

    Like Marc, I thought this was a great speech, delivered from a prospective we have yet to hear in the USA pol dialogue. I thought it was the most nuanced and uplifting speech since MLK stood in front of Lincoln’s seated statue.

    Thank you, Barack! My contribution flies over the internet to you tonite.

  3. A thoughtful essay, Marc, and a valuable contribution to the conversation.

    Racism has been the dominant factor in American history. The first 20 black slaves were brought to Virginia in 1619, according to Howard Zinn. By 1700, there were 6,000 slaves in Virginia, Zinn says, and by 1763, 170,000, half the Virginia population.

    “There is not a country in world history in which racism has been more important, for so long a time, as the United States,” Zinn writes in “A People’s History of the United States.”

    So we had about 230 years of slavery in the U.S., climaxing with the Civil War. Then Reconstruction and 100 years of legally sanctioned oppression, discrimination and second-class citizenship. It wasn’t until the late 1940s that the U.S. began a few faltering steps toward equality. Harry Truman integrated the Army. Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson integrated baseball. And in 1954, we began to try to integrate the schools.

    It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, under President Lyndon Johnson, that racial discrimination became illegal in most aspects of public life.

    So here we are: 1965 to 2008. African-Americans have been legally equal for 43 years. Some people act as if racism is ancient history. But 43 years is not a very long time to erase centuries of culture, custom and mind-set. And centuries of poverty.

    I think tension and hostility between blacks and whites may be as great today as it was in the 1950s and 1960s.

    Perhaps enough time has passed that we can begin to honestly face our history. Barack Obama offers us an opportunity. We can’t predict how it will play out. It is hard to overcome anger and fear.

    We probably should not ignore this complicating factor: The arrival of millions of new immigrants may be seen as threatening or competing with both African-Americans and whites.

    We have a ways to go before we achieve the American ideal of opportunity and equality for all. — Bernie

  4. I’ll listen to Obama’s speech as soon as I am able, but I haven’t heard it yet. I’ve been thinking about the Jeremiah Wright flap, though.

    The business of making people into pariahs on the basis of out-of-context sound bites has gone to ridiculous extremes, and is beyond reason. See Bill Shaheen, Geraldine Ferraro, and Samantha Power.

    Do you, gentle readers, think this is rough-and-tumble politics? Do you think this is tough stuff? Do you think these incidents are SERIOUS? Compared to the severe challenges awaiting our next President, these are sunny days in the sandbox, ladies and gentlemen. My advice to America is, grow up. I don’t want my next President to be firing the Secretary of Defense because she hurt someone’s feelings.

    The media frenzy surrounding Jeremiah Wright might be the most difficult test so far faced by any of the three remaining contenders. If Obama deserves to be taken seriously as a candidate to lead not only this nation, not only the so-called free world, but the world, through the shark-infested waters of the next eight years, he needs to make this incident seem like a minor bump in the road. I want my next president to be able to not only get through something like this, to survive it, but to use it constructively. Obama might be doing this, if I read Marc correctly. If he can turn this into the quintessential teaching moment, all I can say is God Bless and God Speed.

    One good thing to come from this incident might be that Obama shows himself to have faced a difficult test, and passed it. Another good thing would be that teaching moment that Marc wrote about. Far as I can tell, some of Wright’s words have come to some of my fellow Americans as something of a shock. I understand that people from Iowa, New Hampshire, and Montana might not have expected this. I even understand that many of my fellow Baltimoreans might be surprised. So, let’s deal with it. As Carlo said about Marc’s essay, Amen.

    Minor detail about Montana – two United States Senators are UCC congregants. One is Barack Obama. Max Baucus is the other. They might attend the same church when they’re in Washington. They might share a pew. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’d like it to be.

    Finishing up about Jeremiah Wright: I don’t know him, never met him, never attended his church or heard him give a sermon. The same is true of 99.44% of his detractors. I know that Wright served in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Navy when I was in college and grad school, he is more educated than I am, and far as I can tell, he has done more good in the world than I have.

    And I know this: no one or three or ten out-of-context sound bites can hope to fairly sum up this man. I hate the idea that people rush to condemn him without knowing more facts than they do.

    I hope against reason that, this year, my fellow American voters will prove themselves to be better human beings than they indicated in 2000 and 2004. Beginning now.

  5. “truth speaker” says the story of jesus is about whitie oppressing darkie? more confusion- some of yall need to step back and study logic and start writing simply, clearly, logically

  6. I am a black woman that was raped by a black man as a result I had a bastard child, left alone to take care of at the age od 17 still in highschool. I finished school and went on to graduate from college. I agree somewhat with Rev. Wright. It is now 2008 and racism is still her but as african americans nedd to step up and play our part. Here you have a black ,man running tp me the next President of the @*cked world and gave a speech that was never given before. THAT IS BECAUSE IT WAS TRUE AND IT CAME FROM THE HEART! I understand his feeling towards the Rev, but remember America is a free country that is why we have so many illeagal immigrants here now. Black men need to step up and health with the youth. MAN….I LOVE OBAMBA!!!!! I want him to be my next leader!

  7. The speech gave me chills. I am a 40 year old white mother of 2 and my husband and I can only hope for this man to help form this nations future. He makes good choices, sees clearly, and addresses the public when transparency is much needed.

    As for the media…they are sickening vultures. Even NPR’s Talk of the Nation could not restrain itself from dramatizing the role this Reverend plays in our political system. He plays no role!!! If we were all held to the words of people we loved, admired or cared for than we would be in serious trouble. I haven’t seen a feeding frenzy like this in a long time. Those saying that Obama should end his relationship with the Reverend confuse Obama with the backstabbing, fair weather, slimy politicians that we are used to dealing with. I admire him for standing by a friend even when he strongly disagrees with that friend. (And by the way, as far as I am concerned being anti-American is a fallacy. Being American means speaking your mind no matter how painfully ugly, honest, or hateful it may be).

    Hopefully Obama’s speech is a sign of how he will deal with other political associates and other countries that he disagrees with….with kindness, clarity, and directness. Anyone continuing to find fault with how Obama dealt with this has another agenda. And it is not the agenda of bringing this country to an honest discussion about how to level the playing field for all races.

  8. Obama’s speech ranks among the greatest speeches by a political leader in the history of this country. I hope it will be as seminal a speech as Kennedy’s speech on Catholicism was to the Houston Ministerial Association. From that day forward, it was no longer acceptable to deny the Presidency to a Catholic because of his religion. From the reaction I have seen today to Obama’s speech, it may well have a similar effect in ending the barriers to an honest discussion about race in this country.

    I supported Obama before the speech. Now I am sure — he has the potential to be a transformative leader as we all work to turn this country back from a politics based on fear, selfishness and domination to a politics based on our common humanity and the needs of people rather than of corporatons.

  9. I made up my mind to cast my vote in the Pennsylvania primaries for Barack Obama. His talk of unifying the nation inspired me like no other. His message of change and hope really struck a chord within me. I have been physically ill this past week. I feel betrayed by Mr. Obama. How could he tolerate Wright’s anti-American hate speech for the past twenty years. Then he gets up and compares him with his white grandmother. As a black man, I am so sick of my brothers and sisters blaming white racism for thier problems. Black people need to WAKE UP! Reverend Wright’s sermons perpetuates racism. Barack Obama last year called for Don Imus to be fired, but can’t disown his racist reverend. What a coward! I’m finally sick of the Democratic party. I’m sick of so-called black leaders telling me that I’m owed something from the white man, and that I need help from the government in order to make it in life. It’s amazing how Mr. and Mrs. Obama have made it in America, but those he associates tell me that I can’t. I’ve done it with no help from the governement. He offers no change or hope. He’s just another typical politician. The only thing amazing about his speech yesterday is how many people have come out comparing it to Lincoln or FDR. His speech made me vomit. He is a disgrace to his race.

  10. Jonathan,

    I took away something much different from listening to his speech…. and I related completely to his divided feelings towards Rev. Wright. I grew up VERY catholic…. but also in a progressive home…. The church instilled and reinfored (from what I got from my family) values and committments to social justice issues…particuarly as it relates to the poor. But over the past 20 years I have also been taken a back by e church’s stance towards gay and lesbian folks, the abortion issue, and justt their rigidity and intolerance in many areas…. I eventually left…. but I cannot deny that while there were aspects of it that make me cringe…. it also helped shaped who I am in a positive way….

    I was very impressed and blown away with how directly and honestly Mr. Obama addressed the VERY REAL issue of race in this country…. He took us all to task… challenged us all to step up….

    Prior to his speech I had been a bit on the fence about what I felt was his “lack of experience”… No more…. He showed not only character and leadership but also that he that has the intelligence , reflective wisdom , and ability to tackle devisive issues head on….

    He has my vote

  11. Donna Brazil said it best, why is he the only candidate willing to talk about race? The fact that the republican’s rise to power, under Barry Goldwater came as they stroked the racial fears of the South and planted itself deep in Suburbia.

    The setup was perfect; have mainstream flee to these insolated suburbs, then tell them that they, (the republicans) will protect you from those other people. Now they are suprised that Rev. Wright would make those statements. Why wasn’t the reaction just as intense when Jerry Falwell damned America right after 911.

  12. Obama’s speech was brilliant and his unwillingness to disown Reverand Wright was courageous. The media response that I have seen has been incredibly depressing proving once again how this country needs the dialogue that Obama noted. A few months ago Reverand John Hagee endorsed McCain. Hagee has, among other things, stated that Hitler and the Catholic Church conspired to exterminate the Jews, Katrina was God’s wrath visited on New Orleans, the Quran teaches Muslims to kill Christians and Jews. Hagee also joked that the diffference between a woman with PMS and a terrorist is that you can negotiate with a terrorist. His Courtyard Church held a fundraiser and advertised it as a returrn of slavery to America, telling his parishioners to “plan to come and take home a slave”. This guy spouts hatred and ignorance. You can disagree with Reverand Wright, I don’t, but you have to recognize the historical and contemporary basis for his views. Yet, McCain gladly accepted Hagee’s endorsement and there was hardly a murmer. Wright’s comments and Obama’s unwilliingness to disown him despite stating his disagreement with Wright, cause a firestorm in the media. Hagee’s racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Catholicism are acceptable. Wright’s truths/comments are vilified. Boy, do we need a discussion about race and about the acceptablility of hatred and ignorance in our society.

  13. Well said Marc, as always! Sadly, the talk-radio ranters have neither the wit nor the cojones to come into this conversation with honesty and courage. Instead, they will continue to beat Obama over the head with their phony “shock” over what the Rev. said. They should look at what *they* say day after day as they continue to poison the airwaves.

    Too bad they own the megaphones and the big-media echo chambers that allow them to pretend that they’re speaking for the Nation. While Marc gets bounced off of his teeny little platform because he’s too controversial for the big spenders who have bought Baltimore’s public radio outlet.

  14. Mike, you’re close. This blog provides time stamps for
    Algerian Stadard time, not Eastern Daylight.

  15. Michael Derry,
    Never once in my life going to Catholic schools and a Catholic college have I heard anything intolerant. In fact, I’ve heard priests say that everyone should have the right to choose. The message I got was one of encouraging people to make the right choice. I’ve never heard a priest say that being gay or lesbian is a sin. I’ve heard them say that it is a sin to have sex outside of marriage. There’s a big difference.

    Stan,
    I have cousins who belong to the Nation of Islam. I have read the Koran and many ahadith and read many verses that describe Christians and Jews as descendents of apes and pigs. Jews and Christians can live in Muslim lands, but they must pay a special tax, they may not construct any new place of worship or fix those that need repair.I’ve read that unbelievers should be killed if you meet them. Not once did I read that jihad is an internal spiritual struggle. I’ve read that the world exists as two “houses”. One house at peace (dar al salam) and one house at war (dar al harb). According to Islamic scriptures any land that is not Muslim is called the house at war, and that peace can only exist in dar al Islam.
    I have really had a rude awakening this past week. Not only has Barack Obama reinforced black stereotypes, his explaining away of Reverend Wright hate speech has just made it much harder for me to be a black man in this great country. I have seen the light, and it doesn’t shine on Obama.

  16. Jonathan,

    I’m glad you had a different experience from me….

    I was heavily involved in the catholic church in my youth; spent a year at loyola college as a theology major , and have 30 seminary credits from the ecumenical institute at St. Mary’s…..
    (while I was in social work school… initially was going into pastoral counseling) I definately have have come across intolerance from both clergy and lay people

    In any event …. My point was that we all live with contradictions within ourselves…. I don’t know if you lstened to Obama’s entire speech( intially they only had segments of it on here) But he did wonderful jon explaining the context in which Rev. Wright developed his views… And while he did not agree with him… he understood how these views developed in him….

    The definition of “empathy” is not necessarily agreeing with someone but understading where they are coming from….. Obama modeled for us a very important lession….. that we should all strive to better understand each other…. even when we disagree…. Imagine how much more progress we would make in solving our complex problems if we strived to do that

  17. Michael,
    I have watched and read his speech. You’re right, he did explain the context of Wright’s experiences growing up. I have a serious problem with Obama’s explanations. It was a sermon. Basically, he told white people that Reverend Wright can say and do whatever he likes, because of his experiences with racism. He did nothing but excuse Wright’s disgusting behavior and his hate speech. It is hate speech. It’s divisive. Obama has sold himself to the public and one who transcends racial divides. How is he doing this? Because he speaks well? Please. I am leaving the Democratic party (after I vote for Clintion in the PA primary) because it is blind. I would like all Americans to be color blind, not blind to reality. Wright is just another one of our “leaders” who has made a living by telling us that we don’t have to be responsible for our actions because whitey keeps us down. It’s leaders like Wright who are keeping my fellow blacks down. He wants stay down, because that’s how he maintains his “leadership” in the black community of Chicago. My parents grew up in the south and experienced racism on many occassions. Despite this, they were able to run a business successfully without the help from the government. Despite the context of their experiences, they’ve never told me that white people are the root of all ills that affect black people. A coworker of mine is from Cameroon. He’s is darker than night. He has such a thick accent that it’s hard to believe his first language was English. Yet, its amazing that within the first month of being in this country, he was able to find a job. I have relatives who have never worked. They always blame racism for their problems. They say that they are owed something. They are unable to accept any responsibility for their actions or inactions. They believe that all white people are either in the KKK or has family members in the KKK. Obama’s speech, while eloquent, was just another sorry excuse of why blacks shouldn’t be held accountable for thier actions. He said he cringed at the comments his grandmother made, and yesterday said her fears of black men was typical of white people. He didn’t say he cringed when pastor wright made his racist and anti-American remarks. I really thought he was different. I feel like a fool for having supported him. I feel like I’ve been sold a lemon by a stereotypical used car salesman. Obama’s just a typical (Democrat) politician. I will probably, for the first time in my adult life, vote Republican. Obama has turned back the clock on race relations in this country.

  18. I loved the speech, and you know what? Mission accomplished. What are we doing now? Exactly what Senator Obama wanted us to be doing – opening up a dialogue on race relations in America. To echo Carlos’s sentiments, Hallelujah.

    Obama ’08!

  19. 1) Education, better opuintproties and less unemployment.2)Unemployment has lowered in December by 1.3 millionHe will collaborate the ideas between the democrats and republicans to create new laws3)It is good that he is trying to unite both parties and reach common ground within the legal system.

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