Tuesday, March 18, 2008

a more perfect union?

i had no choice. i know i just said like, yesterday that i thought the world was oversaturated with election 2008, but clearly barack's big speech is blowin' up all over the internet and television, so i'd be remiss not to address it...

for those of you who have not yet read the transcript or seen the speech, feel free to take a moment and get back to us.

alright. so this is a long speech, which means it might turn into a long post, but i'll try to be as organized and coherent as possible (take note, maureen dowd!) as i let you know what i thought of barack's big day:

on the whole, i have to say i was impressed. don't get me wrong: i'm not joining the obama camp by any means, nor do i agree with everything he said in his speech. i do, however, think it was extremely well-written and well-delivered. i also think it was fairly politically astute (more on that in a moment), and i do think that he did as good a job as he could have of bringing some issues re: race into the public arena that before now haven't been articulated successfully by any public figure. and thats a pretty big deal. well maybe not "issues," but "issue:" the issue of black anger/rage. back in the day we had malcolm X (sidenote, TERRIBLE idea reverend wright, stealing that 'chickens come home to roost' line from malcolm. didn't you heard? word on the street is that got malcolm shot!), stokely carmichael, angela davis, etc. etc. holding it down for rage, but they were never really talking about that rage to white people. nowadays if someone talks like they did, they end up on national television as anti-american and anti-white, and never in all of politics (at least that i know of) has any major politician ever stood up and addressed that rage. why bother? angry black people are a pretty small percentage of the voting population. it doesn't pay to do them any favors. so i do think it's cool that obama addressed the issue of black anger and tried to put it in some historical perspective. at the very least, a lot more people are trying to understand that.

here's where i think he went wrong: and by "wrong," of course, i mean "i disagree," not that i had any sort of expectation he would go "right" (no pun intended). yes he talks about that anger, he makes a bold move in refusing to 'disown' his reverend, but he does throw anger under the bus. in his attempt to maintain credibility as a candidate, he doesn't just disagree with the reverend's 'inflammatory remarks,' he violently disagrees to the point of dishonesty. Here is the quote i'm thinking of:
But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.
...is it just me, or did he just go a taaad too far? that last sentence has a nicer ring coming out of the mouth of someone like george w. bush than it does out of america's 'man of the world.' but beyond that, this entire quote seems to be catering to the idea that historic injustice is not to blame for current injustice. that the "hateful ideologies of radical islam" are responsible for conflicts in the middle east dismisses quite a bit of imperialist history re: the forming of israel, and the idea of white racism as endemic is abonimable implies that the history of slavery and racism in this country is not as deep-rooted as i think he knows it to be. i don't believe that barack obama even believes these things. but he said them. and that's what worries me.

but like i say, on the whole, it was a good speech. he managed to synthesize 400 years of racism in under an hour, which is no easy feat, and at the same time talk about it in a way that sounds like he's above it (which i don't believe). I think it was very moving and inspirational at times, and i think it was certainly the best it could have been politically - if this doesn't get him nominated, america's just not ready for a black president (don't be shocked, obama fans). However I guess at the end of the day i was left with these two main nagging little problems:

1 - the sacrifices of values this speech seemed to hint at for me made me wonder whether its possible for a black man to get elected president and retain any of the values i would have supported him for. he had to violently denounce the views of someone who has been his "spiritual guide" for 20 years. that seems like a big deal. and it seems like in order to beat mccain, he'll have to do a lot more than that.

2 - i guess this whole "audacity of hope" idea just isn't flying with me. the key point in his speech, i thought, came when he said that the problem with Rev. Wright's various statements is that they were static - that they assume we live in a country that isn't making progress, and that cant change. I think that's a very astute point. if you just call the white man the devil and then just call it a day, you're being neither productive nor insightful. However as Nikki Giovanni once said, the ability to say 'i don't like white people' is a necessary step to being able to truly like them. the key is to take both steps, which i have a hunch the reverend has done. The question is what to do next, and barack's basic idea seems to be "hope for a better future." and i'm sorry, but that just doesn't fly with me. since everyone loves to call out martin luther king's name at a time like this, i'll jump on the bandwagon with an example: sure, he hoped for change. everyone who wants something hopes for it. but he didn't just sit around hoping, and more importantly he didn't ask other people to sit around hoping. He asked them to take action. Barack seems to think that voting for him is action enough. and that, i'm just not buying.

dag, this was long. my b.


Gayatri said...

I mean, the word "endemic" is pretty strong. the fact that he doesn't think that white racism is endemic does not in itself mean that he is discounting the deep rooted racism that persists. and i think its legitimate to think that having a mentality of racism being endemic is not productive - which is what i think he was getting at.

agree with point 2. he's not only hoping himself but trying to change the mentality of americans to believe that america can be better. an important first step, but only for the sake of the second, to make america better. without a way to do that, im not impressed.

Brittany said...

Oooh. I like how you make all your comments yet stay officially neutral on your candidate choice. Very diplomatic. Very afropological.