I just read the full text on Drudge. Here’s the takeaway:
America’s basically good, but still has to work out its racial issues. Black people used to have it worse, and we need to acknowledge progress.
As for Reverend Wright, no one’s perfect. I liked some things my minister did and didn’t like others. Sure he hated white people, but he had soup kitchens too. Plus, he’s like family. As for where Wright’s wrong: black people have problems primarily because of racism, I agree, but we need to get beyond blaming whitey. Whitey’s playing ball, more or less. Further, someone like Wright doesn’t realize that white people have problems too because a lot of them are hard-working, poor, and buffeted by the forces of globalization, just like black people are.
I’ve known bigoted black and white people–including my own grandmother–and didn’t throw them under the bus for a single wayward remark (or in Wright’s case 20 years of highly refined incitement to racial arson). Also, I love my white mom, just in case anyone forgot about her.
Let’s talk plainly: for someone as nuanced as me, single-issue explanations based on conspiracies about other races are not entirely accurate, but this kind of “folk wisdom” is common among older blacks. Maybe if you all weren’t segregating lunch counters and calling us nigger every five minutes, these older people would chill out. I’m the middle man here. After all, I’m half white. These hateful feelings that I’m giving you some insight into are a bit of a generational thing, and I’m also a Gen Xer.
Ultimately, we all need to understand each other and reach some Hegelian synthesis of social solidarity. The root of that solidarity is a frank acknowledgement by whites that most black problems are caused directly or indirectly by the past actions of white people, as well as white capitulation to “fear” today; at worst, blacks merely have “complicity in our condition.”
But there is some hope: black and white people can unite around fleecing rich people, attacking corporations, and expanding government programs. This will help all kinds of poor and middle class people, and therefore both groups can achieve racial harmony by uniting around the Obama candidacy. The speech ends with a nice vignette about a tender moment between a little white girl and a nice old black man illustrating that very possibility: black and white people sometimes get along, especially when they’re working together on the Obama campaign.
In fairness, this speech does address some of the criticisms I have made, showing that he’s more sophisticated than Hillary and her tone deaf, avoidant responses to controversies. He articulates where he agrees and where he disagrees with Wright. He basically said he thought the good outweighed the bad. He portrayed a more positive vision of America than Wright, pointing to the possibility of racial peace (by emphasizing class struggles and nuanced historical understanding (i.e., mentioning the slaveowner ancestors of his wife and his racist grandmother)), and, as he often does, Obama showed some understanding of the roots of white resentment in a way that was not a caricature.
Of course, this speech will not make Wright’s words go away. Seeing him holler “God Damn America!” is pretty powerful. It seems even with this explanation that there’s a point where someone decent and intelligent, someone who had a loving white mother and loving white grandparents, would distance himself from a white-hating crazy person like Wright, even if he would tolerate a wide range of other disagreeable statements by a pastor or family member.
I do predict the media will be enthralled–Sullivan already is. This speech will appeal to a tableau of common media attitudes: belief in America’s deep corruption, coupled with a belief in the possibility of progress; it will testify to Obama’s fundamental reasonableness and moderate tone; it will position him again as a “racial healer”; it will appeal to the healing power of words and rhetoric by a man with such a mediocre record; and, it will show the “horse race” folks that he can take a controversial campaign fast-ball and swing hard, nearly hitting one out of the park. This speech will definitely keep Obama in the Democratic Party game, at least, and stop the bleeding that the Wright controversy portended. It does little however to assuage the concerns of thinking people that his close association with Wright shows that Obama’s a moral idiot and a calculating coward, who cannot stand up to other black leaders, in spite of his claim to be a healing figure.