There are circulating reports about a particular passage in the speech on race Barack Obama gave earlier this week. When speaking about his pastor of 20- years, and the incendiary anti- American, anti- white comments he made, Obama said:
I can no more disown [Rev. Wright] than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.A lot of news organizations and blogs have latched onto that part of the speech, and Obama's follow up comments about it. He pushed aside notions that his grandmother might be racist, and said that she was a "typical white person," who has a gut reaction that "comes out the wrong way." Calling a white person who is scared of African- Americans "typical" has given many pause, and forced further explanations from the Illinois Senator.
The coverage of these comments is disturbing. In his speech, Obama made a valiant effort to move our country forward, to talk about race honestly and openly. As a person with a black father, white mother and Asian sister, he's in a unique position to do that. His speech was remarkable because it was unflinchingly honest and unconcerned with the political fall-out that might come from acknowledging that (gasp!) inner city minorities still seethe over Jim Crow, or (brace yourself) many working class whites resent affirmative action.
Now, familiar forces are trying to draw Obama into the politics of the past. A politics that fains naivete in public, but is no- doubt aware of every prejudice behind closed- doors.
An elderly white lady feels uncomfortable passing a black man on the street? That's preposterous! People who came of age two generations ago use racial epithets? You're out of line, buddy!
If those facts are not acknowledged as true, and we don't recognize that it's not limited to older generations, we cannot move forward. To move past old racial behaviors, it is necessary to look at the causes behind the patterns. In the alternative, you can brand anyone who admits even slight prejudice as racist/ sexist/ anti- Semitic, etc. Reverend Wright is evil, Pat Robertson is a bigot, Obama's grandmother is ignorant. To demonize someone is easy and safe, but it's not right or helpful.
Not if you are tired of the way things have always been, and are ready to start to move in a new direction. That's where Obama is trying to lead us, and hopefully we have the courage to follow.