Obama’s Speech on Race

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

July 1, 2008


Categories: The Balancing Act

A friend has been asking me, repeatedly, if I had seen Obama’s speech on race. She knows that I am fond of saying how much a distraction this whole potlical game is. She knows that I am quite skeptical of Obama and his sort of ‘Slick Willy’ style of campaigning. It sounds nice through the ads I saw while Oregon endured its primary; he had a way that was much less negative than the others. One reason I voted for Tom Potter was because he refused to run a negative campaign. So, Obama’s endurance to turn the tide on our new norm is certainly hopeful. But, on the other hand, it all seems very well crafted, like it is too crafted, and it makes me worried.

Several years ago I was introduced to a different type of political spectrum that measured beliefs on two axes instead of one. It held our traditional ‘right vs. left’ approach, but it also measured an axes of ‘authoritarian’ and ‘libertarian’ views. After taking their sixty question test, it becomes clear that I lie in the green quadrant as shown above, or the ‘Social-Libertarian’ quadrant. I believe laws are necessary to keep institutions like corporations in check, but I also believe it is very important to keep civil and personal liberties as completely free as possible. I believe we need to uphold the 2nd Amendment, for example, in what I deem to be its purest sense: All [persons] shall have the right to bear arms. One of my fears is a police state and one check against that is ensuring citizens a constitutional right to fight back. But, I also don’t believe we should be fighting other people’s wars. I also believe that we need to hold the environment in much higher esteem than we do. This Political Compass organization, out of the U.K., was kind enough to map our presidential candidates views. Based on their tally, I should be voting for Nader or Kucinich. Obama and Hillary are far to right for my line of thinking, and McCain is of course way out there compared to where I lie.

My husband thinks my vote is already postmarked for Obama. I told him that my decision won’t be made up until Election Day. That said, I finally listened to the race speech. I was able to pull out some of the things I found most interesting, and they are bulleted below, followed by an embedded copy of the speech.

I sincerely appreciate that Obama recognizes, clearly, that both sides (black and white) have wrongs that have been dealt them, and these wrongs must be dealt with and recognized if we are to move on. It’s almost as if he’s quoting a chapter from Community Development 101. You have to recognize the anger in a community situation and give it a place to be recognized by the community before you can honestly progress with change.

If we must change slowly, maybe Obama addressing equity is the best way. But, I still hope for a systematic approach to fixing our problems. And, if we are to utilize a systematic approach, only addressing equity is far too short-sided for my tastes. I still believe it is naive to think Obama will save us, and I find it very annoying that some people really do believe that, at least as demonstrated by the t-shirts and rallies. Every time I see a crowd from a filmed speech of his, I think back to Julius Caesar and the part in the play when Marc Anthony sways the crowd who was roaring for Brutus moments before when Brutus defended why he killed Caesar and Marc Anthony now says it was treason. When I see those crowds, I cannot help but think of what Mr. Cardwell in 10th grade English wrote on the board, “The Masses are Asses.”

Maybe my fears are misplaced, I can 0nly hope so. Again, here are some pieces of his speech I found most intriguing followed by the speech as pulled from YouTube.

  • “The most segregated hour of American life occurs on Sunday morning.”
  • “The anger is real… to condemn it without understanding its roots only widens the chasm.”
  • “The white experience [is often] the immigrant experience… built from scratch… jobs shipped oversees… anxious about their futures.”
  • “Opportunity a zero sum game, your dreams at my expense.”
  • “The real culprit? The corporate culture.”
  • “Must recognize anger and resentment is grounded in legitimate concerns.”
  • “For the African American community, it means embracing the past without becoming victims of the past.”
  • “It means taking full responsibility for our own lives.”
  • [Golden Rule]
  • “Let us be our brothers keeper. Let us be our sisters keeper.”
  • [Distractions in politics.]


  1. Beth

    I am glad that you finally listened to this speech on race. I find it to be Obama’s most genuine *political* speech.

    I think it is interesting, however, that you interpret the fanaticism for Obama as “he will save us”. Not that I disagree with you, that there are people who believe something to this effect. But, I would also argue, that a lot of this comes from the idea of “saving us from 4 more years of Bush” or “saving us from 4 more years of radical right”. If Hillary had been our presumptive nominee, I think that we would have been saying the same types of things about her.

    There are also those who believe that Obama as our first African-American president would solve race issues. In fact, I heard someone say verbatim “I hope that when he gets elected, it will end our racism once and for all”. No, Obama as president will not solve our race issues. But I do think that an Obama presidency offers some symbolism that the United States needs in order to begin to heal from the bottom up (not from the top down).

    I have heard quotes on NPR, from African-American citizens who did not believe that any white person would *ever* vote for a man of color for president. For them, just seeing Obama get the number of votes he did – from “white states” was uplifting.

    When looking at it from a practical point of view, Obama cannot save the United States. We NEED a democratic congress in order for Obama to accomplish anything. If Obama and a republican congress were elected, Obama would become a scapegoat and also proof that an African-American man is ineffective in power. The vice-versa is also true, if we elect McCain and democratic congress, he also would not be able to accomplish anything. That is why it is important to elect Obama and a democratic congress. Only then would it lead to *any* change.

    But for all those people who believe that Obama will be our ‘savior’, I think that it is a perfectly reasonable belief to hold. We want to see the United States live up to its potential, and why not HOPE for that change. The biggest thing for me, when watching Obama’s speeches are not the words that he speaks or how he speaks them, but rather the passion the audience displays. The tag-line of the primary election process was “Yes, We Can” NOT “Obama can do it for us”. I believe there is a responsibility that people are starting to live up to. That we, as citizens, need to take part in our election process; that we, as citizens, need to take hold and direct this nation towards a better future; and that we, as citizens, can make it happen.

  2. Beth

    On another note, I also took the political compass quiz, and I do not like it. It makes too many assumptions about belief systems, and turns issues into “black/white” dichotomies.

  3. Michelle Lasley


    First, in regards to the Political Compass quiz, you’re right it does make too many assumptions and it is still ground in a dualistic way of measuring beliefs. It is far too limited. But, I think it’s a step in the right direction toward some semblance of measuring beliefs. It’s a step on the ‘right’ side of the spectrum, maybe much the same way Obama would be good for American Politics.

    One of the things that has been whirling around in my head lately has been how maybe PERFECT American Politics are. Obama discussed this in his first five minutes of his speech, which I really appreciated for his understanding and command of history. I did not discuss it in the ‘blog’ because I felt it was already too long.

    That said, our Founding Fathers were very aware of the race issue, but if they wanted to get the support needed, they needed to basically ignore the issue for now, table it for now (then) until this new country was ready to deal with it. Unfortunately, a lot of lives where lost in the dealing with it, but we eventually have made strides to allow all MEN the pursuit of happiness. If politics and history really is a spectrum of pursuit towards perfection, then as I said Obama would be the perhaps ideal candidate. But, it also frightens me how GOOD he is at what he’s doing…

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