Posted: March 18, 2008 12:27 PM
Obama Stresses Being 'Our Brother's Keeper' in Speech on Race
In a Democratic contest bombarded with questions over race and gender, front-runner Sen. Barack Obama, who is making a bid to become the country’s first black president, spoke Tuesday in Philadelphia to address issues of race “stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery.”
The Illinois senator, who has a black father and a white mother and spent his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia, has battled questions over race during his political career and, in particular, throughout his White House run.
Obama began his address with the Founding Fathers’ ideals of equality and then talked about how slavery “divided this country.”
“Words on parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were able to do their parts through a civil war and civil disobedience,” Obama said.
Controversy has recently stirred over Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose fiery speeches have circulated in the media over the past week.
Wright’s sermons held that the U.S. “had brought the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on itself because of its ‘terrorism,’” Agence France-Presse reported. “Wright also said African-Americans should sing ‘God Damn America’ to protest their treatments at the hands of their white brethren.”
Obama directly condemned Wright’s words in his speech.
“We’ve heard my former pastor, 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 and that rightly offend white and black alike,” he said, adding that Wright’s comments “were not only wrong but divisive.”
Despite his censure of Wright’s words, however, Obama was quick to defend his relationship with the pastor, expanding on his history with the man who officiated at his wedding and baptized his daughters.
“I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him as I can disown my white grandmother … who on more than one occasion has uttered racial stereotypes that have made me cringe,” Obama said. “These people are part of me.”
Obama then expanded on the inequalities caused by segregated schools and institutional racism, asserting that “understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point.”
He then mentioned similar issues anger the white community, stressing that inequality is a universal problem and overcoming it requires cooperation.
Still, the Illinois senator made clear the message that attention on his campaign should not dwell on race. He classified media concentration on ethnicity and gender as “distractions.”
“What is called for is nothing more and nothing less than what all the religions in the world call for — let us no unto others what as we would have them do unto us,” he said, urging that focus shift to problems of health care, education and employment that are “neither black or white or Latino nor Asian.”