2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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Turkey: Obama reverses course with major race speech

 

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TURKISH DAILY NEWS
March 20, 2008

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama - stung by the tempest over incendiary comments by his longtime pastor - took a risky step into America's black-white racial divide, acknowledging African-American anger and white resentment in his most thorough airing of the country's troubled racial history.

Until Tuesday, Obama, who has a white mother and black African father, had sought to play down the difficult issue but decided to reverse course in an apparent bid to recapture momentum in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and to cap the growing storm over remarks by Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Breaking a racial stalemate':

Standing before a row of eight American flags, Obama acknowledged passions in America's white, black, Asian and Hispanic communities as he urged the nation to break "a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years."' "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.

Obama had been knocked off balance this month with primary election losses to rival Hillary Rodham Clinton in the key U.S. states of Texas and Ohio. Those defeats have been compounded in recent days as highly charged portions of Wright sermons surfaced on the Internet and found repeated airing on cable television.

Wright blames US

Wright, speaking from the pulpit soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, blamed U.S. foreign policy. Further inflaming some voters were separate Wright comments that God should damn, not bless, America for its long history of mistreating and discriminating against African-Americans, the descendants of slaves brought to the country in its early years.

While Obama rejected what he called "incendiary language" by Wright and said it presented a "profoundly distorted view" of America, the candidate refused to disavow the fiery preacher. "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. These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love." Obama said Wright's words "rightly offend white and black alike." But, he said, race "is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now."

And in the course of a nearly 5,000-word speech, Obama asserted: "This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected."

Obama voiced his own frustrations, as well, over public handling of Wright's sermons. "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," he said. "But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man."

'Big leap':

During an ABC television interview broadcast Tuesday night, Obama said he always expected he would have to give the race speech, but that he did not anticipate the subject would come up in the way that it did. "This is a big leap for the country," he said. "Even me being the nominee is a big leap and then, obviously, actually being the president is a big leap. ... What I want to do is to make sure that we understand that my campaign is not premised on making history, but that, whoever is president, this is always going to be an ongoing issue that we have to struggle with and that, perhaps, I can lend some special insight into."

 
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