OFFBEAT: Obama's talking to all of us

I have a homework assignment. I want to respectfully suggest you look up and read Barack Obama's March 18 speech on r
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

 

I have a homework assignment.

I want to respectfully suggest you look up and read Barack Obama's March 18 speech on race.

The other day, I realized that while I had read many commentaries on the speech, from pundits on the left and the right, I didn't really know what Sen. Obama actually said. I'd only read the brief excerpts quoted in news stories.

So I took a few minutes to read it. (Search the Internet, and you'll find it in plenty of places. I found my copy at salon.com).

I still don't know whether Obama would make a good president. But I thought he gave a great speech. And I felt a lot better after reading it than I felt after reading some of the endless yammering about it from pundits on both sides.

This is an important point, because if you read a typical commentary on the speech -- from Obama's friends as well as his foes -- you might assume that Obama's speech was a typical liberal Democrat's take on race.

When you are reading such a screed, look for the sentence which says everybody needs to have a "conversation" about race.

The invitation to take part in the conversation inevitably is followed by a lecture that tells you what to think and that makes it clear that no other point of view is legitimate.

See, for example, Connie Schultz's March 23 column in the Plain Dealer, where she calls for a "conversation we all need right now," and then labels anyone who disagrees with her "racists" and "hate mongers."

Or Rufus G.W. Sanders' column on this page on March 24, which uses the word "conversation" at least three times while delivering the usual sermon about "white privilege."

Obama's take is actually much more interesting and subtle.

I can't change what I am. I'm a middle-aged white guy.

And I can't change my experiences. Since I moved to Ohio in 2003, I've been rejected out of hand for desirable jobs because I'm a not-terribly-young white male who adds nothing to any potential employer's "diversity" score sheet.

Sen. Obama wants me to understand there are historic reasons for such affirmative action policies.

But he also wants blacks to understand whites have legitimate grievances, too.

He noted most middle class and working class whites have worked hard all their lives. "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."

Because Obama is willing to acknowledge angry whites might have legitimate grievances, he may be the first candidate in a long time who can raise black grievances and actually get a hearing from folks who aren't already in the choir.

The white community, Obama noted, needs to acknowledge 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 -- is real and must be addressed."

I can't do justice to the speech by quoting it briefly. Please track it down and read it.