If you want to see someone give a speech, any speech, from the heart and without relying on note cards of well scripted, specific talking points, listen to this speech by Obama. I have posted Part 1 of 4, the whole speak is here: http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/hisownwords/
This is not just a speech on race, it is a speech about humanity and American history. It is a speech about things that divide us and things that unite us. It is a speech about how we are so different yet all the same.
It will be easy for some to dismiss this speech as just another move in the real life chess game we call politics. But even if you don’t agree with Barack Obama’s motives, or his viewpoints, you can not deny the passion from which this resounding, personal manifesto comes.
I am white. I grew up in a white town in New England. I did not know that I went to a desegregated school until I was much older and understood was that meant. I did not know that my best friends, like Andrea and Audrey, Eric and Shelia, who arrived at my Elementary School in those cool yellow buses, came from some place called “inner city”. I did not know what “inner city” meant, other than that’s where they play Double Dutch and my friends from there taught me how to jump rope like that.
In the same way that I can never truly understand the plight of black Americans, Reverend Wright and Barack Obama won’t ever understand how I could not truly understand the racism and discrimination that has taken place in this country for centuries.
Sometime around the time I was born, or maybe it was around the time I was learning how to walk, a black family that my family knew was trying to move into our neighborhood. In the early and middle 1960’s in a small New England town, a black man getting a mortgage to buy a home in a predominantly white town was nearly impossible. The man was about to give up when my father stepped up and spent many, many days with this man, encouraging him, going from bank to bank to bank until he found a lender who would give this man and his family a mortgage for a home in our neighborhood. When the man finally got the mortgage, it took all the money he had but the house needed some work, some of it electrical. My father was an electrician by trade. My father did the work that was needed asking only that the man pay him as much as he could, whenever he could. Every week, the man’s wife would come to our home with an envelope containing a five dollar bill to be applied to the cost of what they owed my father for the work that was done.
I was very proud of my father when I heard this story. Not for what he had done, but because I knew nothing about it until I was about 30 years old. We weren’t taught that racism is an ugly thing and that you should not be racist. We were simply never shown what racism was. We had no idea how to be racist, because we were never taught how to be racist. In the end, this taught us more than anything else could. And I realize now how lucky I am to have come from parents like mine.
So again, I am white. I am also French Canadian. I am gay, I live in Maine, my father was a democrat, my mother a republican (she’ll kill me if I don’t say she’s an independent), and I was raised Roman Catholic. I am quite sure there are even more socio-economic labels out there to which I could be attached. But that does not mean that every statement that either intentionally or unintentionally slips from the mouths of those in positions of power or authority from these labeled groups is a statement with which I agree or support.
I am American but don’t want you to think that I agree with everything or anything the President says or does. I am gay, and while I may agree with some of the gay agenda, I don’t want the marchers in Gay Pride parades across the world to speak on my behalf. I can’t think of anyone person who is a White voice of authority other than that of the white community as a whole. And I don’t want any one of them, or a group of them, to speak out on my behalf on how I feel about blacks or any other race, creed, color, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. And again that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own set of beliefs that may intertwine and overlap with the beliefs of those who think they may be speaking for me. But don’t assume we are all the same.
In my opinion, this is the message that Barrack Obama, who can say it much more profoundly than I can, is trying to get across. We are all associated with groups and as a culture we all like to label people, placing them into neat little piles of belief systems. But judge us not on those piles, but rather on the needle that I am in the haystack.
I’ve searched for an antonym for racism for many years. I don’t like any of them. Words like “tolerance, fairness, socialism” just don’t cut it. The closest word I can come to is “democracy”.
So I was raised in a world of democracy, and by that, in this context, I mean a lack of racism, and never knew it. I did not know that racism existed until I was in my teens and had to ask my parents what it was. So I am thankful that I was raised in an open-minded atmosphere. I am glad that I was raised to judge each person on their own character and not on the label attached to them. And I am thankful that, while I know racism exists and I know we may never, ever be without it in this country, a man like Barack Obama, who from a distance is exactly the opposite of me, is so much like me in is basic beliefs that every man should get to stand on his own. And if you are going to pass judgment on Barack Obama, judge him how he stands, not where he stands.