Senator Obama's speech yesterday in Philadelphia is mandatory viewing:
His delivery is almost preternaturally cool. He doesn't dramatize the text with his usual sweeping oratory -- he lets the words carry themselves. It is a major speech in American political history. It is honest and complex and non-pandering and a welcome contrast to all the petty bullshit of day-to-day horserace politics.
It is also a speech that in a better, more just world, a more understanding, more historically conscious world, he should not have had to give. In that better world, the people who were offended by some of Rev. Wright's fiery comments might have paused a moment to reflect about where the reverend's anger is coming from, and think on whether they, too, might be angry if they had experienced what he has experienced. People might also consider why anger, especially African-American anger, is considered so politically radioactive, when it is precisely righteous anger at oppression and injustice that fueled many of the great civil rights activists of the past century.
I find it rather depressing that Senator Obama had to make a lengthy and concise speech today, not about the plight of American poverty, the continual decline of American education , our very troubling healthcare system ( though to his credit he did try to tie these issues in to his speech), but he had to use this valuable time to speak in defense of a man that has been defending the rights of black Americans in Chicago for decades. My grandmothers house is about 4 blocks away from the original
Trinity Church that Reverend Jeremiah Wright preached at for the last 36 years. My Mother still remembers when he started that church and had a small following of maybe 65 congregants, my uncle and aunt attended that church for a time, and I remember passing by it as a kid. That church now has a congregation of thousands, and I think it's also interesting to note that some of it’s congregants are white Americans just like you.
The tradition of black preachers using their sermons to inspire, incite, and encourage slaves and descendants of slaves to look toward a bigger picture of existence in the haven of being a good Christian saved many a soul from the depression of some everyday realties, and I believe many of your white American ancestors from one less race riot. Does that excuse some of Reverend Wright’s opinions? Not completely. But when put into to context that these thoughts came from the son of a Black Baptist preacher, who experienced racism just by the genetic indetermination of being born brown, raised during the Jim crow era, seeing racism as not only a witness participant, but also as an staunch community activist participant in a very segregated politically windy city, I’d say that if anybody had the right to speak on these touchy issues he should be allowed to, without his tactics being defined as that of a “cult leader”.
However, given the sorry state of American discourse on race -- which has been especially stupid during the current presidential campaign, and I fear it will only get worse -- I am glad Sen. Obama gave the speech he did. It is hard to imagine a better one.
Some other reactions from around the jazz musician blogosphere:
And finally, I rarely venture into politics here, but I have to say, I was impressed, even moved, by Obama’s speech yesterday. To have any politician talk about race in such a nuanced and honest way is incredible, let alone a major presidential candidate. My immediate family happens to be about as wildly diverse as Obama’s: asian, white, black, jewish, you name it; my friends run the gamut from those openly advocating for revolution to those working within the political system. I’ve had loving and complex relationships and discussions with all these friends and relatives similar to what Obama describes with his pastor and his grandmother. It is beyond refreshing to have an intelligent national conversation about this, it is potentially transformative. If only it lasts, and becomes part of our waking reality, rather than than the vague memory of a compelling dream.
Ezra Klein is right. The power of that Obama speech -- the power of the candidate himself -- is traceable to a characteristic so rarely seen in politics: honesty.
As I listened, I was reminded that, for all of the left-generated criticism of Obama as "not progressive enough" (do you remember how common that was back in the Fall?) -- there is simply no way a Dennis Kucinich or a Ralph Nader (both of whom I admire greatly) could put the issue of race on the table so deftly, respectfully, and forcefully.
Whether you think race is our crucible issue as a nation is up to you, of course. I happen to think it is.
Finally, I note this only because no one else seems to have mentioned it yet -- some may recall Rev. Jeremiah Wright from his appearance on a Wynton Marsalis album. He provides the narration on the track "Premature Autopsies (Sermon)" (click to listen via Rhapsody). The text is by (wait for it...) Stanley Crouch.
On this track, one of the things Rev. Wright says is: "If you give me a fair chance, I will help you better understand the meaning of democracy."