“The Speech”: Barack Obama On Race – (2008)

Aquarian Weekly 3/26/08 REALITY CHECK

THE SPEECH Inside Barack Obama’s Bold Sonnet To Our Bitter Demons & Better Angels For 37 minutes on the18th day of March 2008, Barack Obama, junior senator from Illinois and leading Democratic candidate for president of the United States, delivered as brutally candid a speech about race, human nature, and the forces for change that lie between them as intellectually possible. It was the first time in the history of this nation, a candidate for high office, or any office for that matter, addressed the hard truth about its deepest, most festering wound; a self-inflicted lesion so profoundly absurd and odious it stands to this day as the greatest failure in America’s boldly infinite quest for equality.

Barack ObamaObama, son of a black Kenyan man and white mother from Kansas, not only addressed the realities of cultural divides in the most direct of terms, but ripped open wide the scabs that we’ve been less-than gently picking at for decades of riots, marches, assassinations and defiantly booming rhetoric, but also let slip from our subconscious at dining room tables and private parties.

It may have been political suicide. It may have been transparently self-serving. But it was without valid refute brilliantly honest and long overdue.

It had to be said, and it had to be said by him, the first truly legitimate African American presidential candidate.

It also had to be written and spoken as eloquently and forcefully as it was, and it had to be done now.

It had to be done on the heels of one solid week, hour after hour, of rip-roaring lunacy from another religious/politico psycho by the conspicuous name of Jeremiah Wright, former pastor from something called the Trinity United Church of Christ. The man who married Obama, baptized his kids, and originally hailed from the church the candidate has clung to like a life preserver as he was accused from every corner of being a Muslim, as if it were the crime of all crimes, on 60 Minutes, the Internet wilderness, and by his smarmy opponent.

A Muslim? Imagine the horrors of that?

What a crock it all is, this grab-ass cloak of religious righteousness we demand from our public servants, who are forced to lip-service our superstitions and by association are abducted by the cauldron of separatist hate-speech and fire and brimstone diatribes aimed at everything not falling in line.

It is a sick and terrible world we enter in these Houses of the Lord, closed-door meetings of the flock, who look to the pulpit for atavistic pandering submentals to spew personal angst against whatever you’ve got.

So here was Barack Obama, standing in the birthplace of liberty, draped in racist innuendo and religious madness, evoking the words of Thomas Jefferson and William Faulkner, referencing the O.J. Simpson murder trial and the Katrina disaster, deconstructing the social and cultural ramifications of Affirmative Action and Jim Crow, using the widest array of colloquialisms and slang from “gangbanging” to “the laziness of welfare”.

This was history. Real history. Not this fabricated televised nonsense we’re force-fed like lab rats. It was revolution in words. Striking words. Distinct words. No surrender in them. Powerful stuff.

Fucking amazing is what it was. Shockingly, mind-numbingly crazed. I literally laughed out loud during it. Chills and laughter; these are my tenets; the bare essentials of why I wandered into writing about this miserable shit in the first place.

This was history. Real history. Not this fabricated televised nonsense we’re force-fed like lab rats. It was revolution in words. Striking words. Distinct words. No surrender in them. Powerful stuff.

This was a man not only running for president, a black man no less, but a frontrunner down by nearly 20 points in a crucial primary state, peering out into the glare of lights, poised microphones, scribbling pads, and the one-eyed monster that had been tearing pieces from him for seven long days, delivering the goods. This was not a cultural leader like Martin Luther King or a radical voice of a fringe movement like Malcolm X. This was not a professorial university discussion or a stand-up routine by Chris Rock.

This was a minority candidate for president of the United States, and he was not running for cover, offering up rhetorical apologies or lame excuses. He was not rising above the issue like Jackie Robinson or dancing around it like James Brown. Instead, Barack Obama dove headfirst without a hint of remorse, embracing his race while deftly looking beyond it, as his campaign has claimed to strive for since its inception.

It is not even fair to pull quotes from the thing without missing its nuances. It would be like playing you 40 seconds of Miles Davis’ “So What” and pulling the plug or offering up “When I’m Sixty Four” and claiming it captures Sgt. Pepper’s. Fuck that noise. Listen to it. Read it. Watch it. It’s all over the net. If you haven’t seen it all the way through and do not emerge at least in awe of the type of person who dares to provide a tangible, concrete opinion on a passionate, divisive subject while also trying to sucker you out of a vote, then I’m sorry, we’re not watching the same game.

What Obama was able to do for what basically constituted 29 out of 37 minutes (the other eight or nine minutes were admittedly jammed with pandering populist stuff) was box Pastor Wright and everyone who clings to old grudges as some kind of badge of courage, and told them it is time to let go. Change for real. No more of the same anger Baby Boomers harbor for the Left and the Right; the old guard, the has-beens, the jesters on radio and brooding curmudgeons at the typewriters and the creaky bones using up space on Capitol Hill. They all have axes to grind. They all have a point, black and white. Everyone is mad with envy, disdain, fear, and posturing, but Obama says, for his part – and it has steadily become a very significant part in all of this – that he will abstain, thank you very much.

And here is where the purported Candidate of Change officially crosses the generational divide. Here is where if found yourself supporting what has heretofore been a showcase of progressive goofiness, you can begin to believe this guy may actually mean it.

Look, there was always very little chance a black man would ever be elected president of a country forty years removed from his race being denied access to eateries, public bathrooms or hotel accommodations. It is a nothing short of a miracle and a testament to this great nation’s force of progress he stands before a crowd of predominately white middleclass journalists in the city of our birthing and pitches his domestic or international policies much less how and why we are pandemically incapable of looking beyond a person’s skin or gender or religious affiliation in these infant years of the 21st century.

But then isn’t it ever more shocking when you consider America currently fights and dies halfway across the globe in a desert where the kind of religious, racial and cultural chasm has grown as a cancer for centuries, while we are less than two centuries removed from our own bloody Civil War.

Glory, glory, Halleluiah. Indeed.


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