Barack Obama gives speech on racial division

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

United States presidential candidate Barack Obama today gave a speech concerning racial division, which has become a major issue in his campaign after his former pastor's racially-charged statements were widely reported in the media last week.

The 37-minute speech, which Obama's advisers say was written by Barack himself, was delivered at the National Constitution Center, a history museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was broadcast live on national television.

Obama said Rev. Jeremiah Wright's statements "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". In one of Wright's more controversial sermons, he said blacks should damn America for mistreating and ignoring them.

"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," Obama said.

However, Obama says he will continue to embrace his former pastor, if not his words. "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community," he said. "I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother ... a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street ... These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love."

Cquote1.svg 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. Cquote2.svg

—Barack Obama

Obama, the son of a Kenyan man and a white woman, discussed how his race has affected his campaign. "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," he said.

"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".

He also discussed the larger issue of race, and said that it is still an issue in the United States. "The anger is real," he said, referring to the anger expressed by Wright and other blacks. "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 also mentioned the resentment felt by many whites because of welfare and affirmative action. Though he says this resentment has often distracted America from the real problems whites and others face, he said that to label it as misguided or racist would only "widen the racial divide".

Obama described the current state of racial affairs in America as a "stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years", but he says he has a conviction that "we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds" and "continue on the path of a more perfect union".

Hillary Clinton, also campaigning in Philadelphia, gave a positive comment about Barack's speech. "Issues of race and gender in America have been complicated throughout our history, and they are complicated in this primary campaign," said Clinton. "There have been detours and pitfalls along the way, but we should remember that this is a historic moment for the Democratic Party and for our country. We will be nominating the first African-American or woman for the presidency of the United States, and that is something that all Americans can and should celebrate."

The Internet's reaction to Obama's speech was immediate and pronounced. Adam Whittaker, a blogger from Brooklyn, New York, posted a supportive comment on Obama's campaign site. "Obama went straight to the wound today," he wrote, "but he didn't go with a bottle of acid or with the intentions to open the wound deeper. He went to the wound with precision and healing power of a surgeon, and he even sewed a stitch to begin the healing."

A user from Yukon, Oklahoma named Brint said, "Here we have a man who is half black, half white; a man who has experienced and embodies the concerns shared by both sides in racism, speaking frankly and intelligently on the issue."

Others were not so supportive. One YouTube user questioned why Obama had stayed close to Wright for so long. "His words are not enough - he should have taken action years ago," the user commented. "There's no room in this world for Wright's divisive teachings, and his financial and spiritual support of them over 20 years does not help his electability.

Another user wrote, "Actions speak louder than words and Obama sat and listened to hate for a long time. Not even one of his great speeches can erase that."

Still other observers argued that the controversy over Obama's former pastor was merely a distraction from the real issues that confront the American people: How to revive a sinking economy, end an unpopular war, and curb global warming.

"I'm more concerned with what Obama, Clinton, or McCain will do about jobs, education, global warming, the war, and the national debt than I am about this phony issue," one voter said after listening to the speech. "This whole controversy was started by right-wingers trying to use race to divide us again."


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