After Rev. Wright’s controversial comments about America made their way onto every news channel in the country, some believed Barack Obama would no longer be a force in the upcoming elections.
On Tuesday in Pennsylvania, Senator Obama delivered a highly anticipated speech about race, politics and the history of racial divide and a hope for unity in the future. Sharing his own story, explaining his family’s history of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, the Senator drew from all sides of his background to call for unity amongst all races.
After explaining that the racial tension exists in many levels and in different parts of the country, he noted that we, as a nation, are in “a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years.” Obama spoke about the anger, rooted in racism and injustice, which has been a part of the African American community and experience for years. He also spoke about the white perspective, explaining that racist comments which are shared at the dinner table, but not in the company of others.
“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,” he said. “This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.”
Obama also spoke about Rev. Wright’s participation in his growth, explaining that Wright’s comments “rightly offended” many, that they were “wrong,” but that he could not disown him.
“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,” he continued.
“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 YouTube, 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Obama also spoke about the opportunity for unity that we face today. He argued that stations can continue to run the Wright videos on a loop and disregard the campaign with this as a “distraction,” or that we could use this to come together and understand the divide to lessen distance of the racial gap.
“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.”
The response of various news station analysts, experts and reporters shows that this speech is “unprecedented” and “historic.” While some skeptical critics have said that the speech did not answer all of their questions about his connection to Rev. Wright, the speech has already been compared to speeches given by Dr. Martin Luther King.