Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama's speech

I watched Obama's speech last night. I was, of course, impressed. But a couple of things struck me: first, he's remarkably calm through the whole thing. He doesn't get excited the way he can when firing up a crowd. Second, it's almost prosaic in its honesty and simplicity. There are few rhetorical flourishes or great new revelations. There is very little that I haven't heard before or thought myself. But there is a lot that needed to be said, just to break the ice and get many, many conversations started. Nicholas Kristof put it well in the NY Times:

Much of the time, blacks have a pretty good sense of what whites think, but whites are oblivious to common black perspectives.

What’s happening, I think, is that the Obama campaign has led many white Americans to listen in for the first time to some of the black conversation — and they are thunderstruck.

I think lots of white people, particularly conservatives, just want racial issues in this country to go away. As Obama pointed out, white people feel like they're not guilty of all these horrible crimes, so why should be they be victimized in turn? That's a difficult question to answer, but what Obama, and, apparently, Jeremiah Wright answer, is that what blacks are looking for is equal opportunity. But they also know, at least Obama and Wright do, that blacks must help themselves. That's part of the message that Obama, I'm sure, will be stressing. With himself as a prime example.

Some of the controversy over Wright's remarks stem from the fact that he was proposing some bizarre, at least bizarre according to the white perspective, conspiracy theories. But I think a black pastor thinking in terms of conspiracy theories is understandable because literally for centuries there WERE conspiracy theories against blacks in this country. And those theories were widespread, and extremely powerful, and, in many instances, deadly. And they did emanate from the white power structure. So to white people, a conspiracy theory sounds crazy, because they can't see themselves or anyone they know perpetuating it. But to someone who grew up surrounded by many conspiracies, it's very plausible.

Probably the best commentary on this so far came from Jon Stewart, who pointed out that, finally, a presidential candidate addressed the American people on the subject of race "as if they were adults."

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