Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Race Speech

I'm not being original when I say this speech was nearly perfect. I'm particularly amazed at the way Obama used his bi-racial-ness as a hook upon which to hang the message that he gets resentments on all sides and that he is uniquely situated to deal with those resentments en route to working toward the common good. I've known enough bi-racial and multi-racial people to know that it can be an identity that causes problems and pains that are as difficult to face and address as those faced by any minority, but without the language and support structures built up over time to take on that task. The fact that most bi-racial people don't have bi-racial parents who know the particular strains they face doesn't help.

But Obama used his bi-racial identity as an asset. In this speech he used it as a way to tell everyone that he gets their dirty little secret, that it's OK, and that the problem that secret represents can be dealt with if it's faced head-on. Brilliant.

Probably the best and simplest take on it was John Stewart's when he referred to the speech as Obama talking to Americans about race as though they were grown ups.

I also have to wonder (on a slightly more frivolous note) about his mention at the beginning of the speech of the issue of slavery nearly hamstringing the convention that led to the Declaration of Independence. It may be just a coincidence, but that very historical episode was dramatized (wonderfully, I thought) the night before in HBO's miniseries, John Adams. If that isn't one of the luckiest coincidences ever, it's a pretty masterful bit of scheduling.

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