Mar 232008
 
Authors: Sean Reed

Last week, while CSU students were either working, destroying brain cells or saving the world through Alternative Spring Break, a senator from Illinois with a self-professed funny name may very well have made history.

On Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama delivered a speech about the one topic that typical politicians refuse to touch — race. But then again, Obama is anything but a typical politician.

As the first black man with a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected, many have been surprised by the Obama camp’s relative silence on the issue of race and inequality in America, but recent events forced the senator’s hand.

Earlier this month, ABC News aired spliced sound bites of Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, making inflammatory comments about racism in America, including a claim that the government introduced the HIV virus as a means of genocide against blacks in America.

This late in the game, most politicians would have denounced the man and his comments — which Obama did — and just left it at that. Because of his long history with the reverend, though, Obama felt it necessary to do a bit more.

Rev. Wright is the man that brought Barack Obama to Christianity. He presided not only over Obama’s wedding to Michelle Williams, but also over the baptism of his two children. In addition, Obama was a member of Wright’s congregation for more than 20 years.

This extensive relationship could not be discarded so easily.

So instead of abandoning his preacher for his resentment and misguided talk, he did something that we rarely see — he tried to make America understand the logic behind the reverend’s words.

There has been a legacy left by America’s “original sin of slavery,” Obama said, that has left resentment on many fronts.

He highlighted the continued segregation of schools 50 years after Brown vs. the Board of Education illegalized it, pockets of poverty within the inner city that can be traced to racist loan policies and property laws, as well as a lack of economic opportunities for young black men and women, which lead to higher rates of crime and a lack of hope for the future for many within the black community.

“This is the reality in which Rev. Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up,” he said, and is the explanation for the pastor’s controversial comments.

On the other hand, Obama also acknowledged reasons for resentments within the white American community, particularly the feeling within the white community that gains within the black community can only come at their detriment.

“In an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense,” he said.

The key, Obama said, to getting over these resentments and healing the nations racial wounds is the same reason that now, more than ever, it is necessary to do so — the issues facing Americans today are too big for a nation divided to face.

Now, he said, is the time for the nation “to come together to solve a set of monumental problems — two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.”

In the wake of his remarks, many have awarded him praise and many have written off his remarks as nothing more than political backpedaling against a threat to his electability. I tend to agree with the former, but it doesn’t really matter.

America needed this speech. For too long, race and inequality have been given meager lip service by politicians. It is time for real, meaningful dialogue to begin.

I just hope the American people are up for it.

Editorials Editor Sean Reed is a senior political science major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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