Nothing Is Wrong With A Radical Critique of Racism and Racial Inequality in American Society; Well…, Unless You Are Running For President

I was down-right giddy as I sat in front of my television set waiting to hear Senator Obama give what was billed as “a MAJOR address on race in America.”

I was overwhelmed with joy by the idea that a black man would be talking about race (and though it was NOT billed that way, racism), that white Americans were eagerly waiting to hear what he had to say, and that it would be broadcasted, discussed and analyzed for days by all of the major (and world) television, radio and print media.

Yet, because I’ve been very skeptical of the Senator’s presidential campaign from the start, I was really worried. Would he do a good job? The truth of the matter, I thought to myself, is that he has been soft-shoeing it on race, avoiding the issue like the bubonic plague.

I dropped to my knees, betraying the fact that I am an agnostic secular humanist, and did what everyone does when faced with a crisis: I prayed.

I prayed that the Senator would not squander this opportunity.

I prayed that he would be willing to even risk his presidential aspirations to TELL AMERICA THE TRUTH about race (and racism) in America.

I also prayed that a generous friend was holding the winning ticket for the $275 million Powerball jackpot.

I then said, “Amen.”

The speech did nothing to change my suspicion that Senator Obama’s campaign is full of possibility but deeply flawed.

While the Senator told some truths, he did not SPEAK THE WHOLE TRUTH about race and racism in post-Civil Rights Movement America.

Let me be clear, Senator Obama’s speech was moving, full of hope and the possibility of change. Smart and articulate, without a doubt, he is one of the most gifted politicians of not just this, but any era.

I nonetheless found myself disagreeing with some of his key points.

The most disturbing part of Senator Obama’s speech for me was his contention that those who offer a radical critique of racism in America – what he described as “a view that sees white racism as endemic” – are relics, that they are stuck in a pre-Civil Rights Movement America.

Clearly, Senator Obama believes that historical racism (which I am happy that he recognizes) and what he described as current black "culpability" is much more important than contemporary racism (i.e., the ideology of white supremacy and systemic racism) in shaping the life chances and opportunities of black people.

I think that the Senator’s big-picture view, not the views of those who voice rage about the weight they carry because of centuries of continuous racial oppression, is just plain wrong.

While I think that Senator Obama’s address moves the conversation on race and racism in the right direction, instead of condemning those who argue, like Rev. Wright, that racism is endemic, I wish he had said the following:

"Let me be clear, as a nation we've come a long way, but in the post-civil rights era, racism has become much more covert and systemic but no less pernicious. Let me explain…”

Imagine the national (and international) conversation on race and racism a statement like that would have launched. Admittedly, however, it might have cost him the White House.


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