Friday, March 28, 2008

A Speech for the Ages!!

I realize I am a little late in posting this but here at WestCoastTilt we pride ourselves in tardiness. Before I go on I want to make it clear that this is in no way an endorsement of Barack Obama. However on March 18, 2008 he gave a speech tha put race relations in this country in an honest and true light. In my opinion it is a speech that will be remembered for a long time by all Americans Republican or Democrat, Black or White, Old or Young. The text and a video of the speech can be fouind here:
The following are few highlights and why I feel they are relevant, Obama's words are in italics mine in the standard text.
I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.
This idea that only through unity can our Country continue to better itself is nothing new. However it is an idea that seems to be forgotten lately. We at times get so caught up pointing the finger at the other guy we forget how much we need the other guy. Our differences and our ability to unite despite our differences is what makes America great. No where else in the world have so many people with so many different experiences been able to unite for the common good.
The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And 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.
We are good at pretending like race is a problem of the past. I strongly agree that for us to overcome all the challenges that confront us at home and abroad we MUST address this issue.
This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted.
For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.
That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. 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.
This is definitely something that I, as a white american, take for granted. For us to assume that because times have changed attitudes and feelings have changed is silly. The movements that led to change were and are movements that were difficult and hard fought on both sides. Lives were damaged and feelings were hurt and those scars do not go away. However the important issue that Obama raises here is that more often then not that anger takes away from the real problems. We need to recognize and understand that the scars are there but at the same time we need to harness that anger into promoting positive change.
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. 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.
Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.
On the same note we can see that people feel as Barack puts it "opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. " When someone is told that the only way to make things fair is to give an advantage to another of course outrage will follow. And along the lines of the "zero sum game" the logical thought must be that if you get an advantage that means I have to lose and since the injustice that is being righted was not done by me it is unfair that I lose.
The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
This really is the key.
It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.
What makes this speech so important is that Obama identifies the underlying issues with race in our country. The past while past has not gone away. The atitudes and feelings have merely gone underground. Now some of these feelings seem justifiable but for our Country to continue to make strides in attaining the ideals laid out by the Founding Fathers of liberty and justice for ALL we must move forward. We must empathize with those who have been scarred and help them recognize the progress we have made. All the while pushing forward together, independent of our personal differences, so that this great country we live in can continue to be a beacon to the world of equality and good will. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard of understanding so that the world can see that our differences strengthen our nation. I believe in America, not because we are fundamentally better, but because we as a people are willing to take stock of our shortcoming and work together to strengthen them.

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