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All In The Family

By The Reverend Published: March 19, 2008


It has been suggested by my commenter friend, larry, as well as many others, that Barack Obama threw his white grandmother, figuratively, under the bus yesterday during his speech focusing on race relations in the U.S. I am of a different opinion and I want to explain why.

First, the portion of Obama's speech dealing with his white grandmother....

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him 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.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love. Link

Obama, as he prepared for this speech, had to calculate how to present both sides of the race problem, both views, white and black, and do it convincingly, credibly. The portrayal of a white person's fears, ignorance and symptoms of racism, by a black man, would be a daunting challenge. Yes, many whites still fear blacks. Yes, many whites are still ignorant of blacks and black culture. (Part of the Wright uproar). Yes, many whites say, write and do things that can be construed as racist.

But how does a black man speak about this white reality? I think it would be tough.

So Obama decided to make it personal. Because he is the son of white and black parents, he is uniquely qualified to speak to both sides of the racial issue. From this unique perspective the views of his very own white grandmother were presented, not sacrificially, as some suggest, but rather as typical of how many whites regard blacks.

If indeed, Barack's own white grandmother, a white grandmother whose daughter married a black man, a white grandmother who loved her black grandchild more that life itself, if indeed she, of all people, still wrestled with fears and prejudices about could it be unusual for other whites to be also wrestling with these same fears and prejudices?

Through the relaying of honest, though imperfect, comments by his white grandmother over race, Barack Obama was able to strike a refreshingly honest chord that white listeners know, deep down inside, rings true. If we don't, ourselves, hold similar fears and prejudices as Obama's white grandmother,...we certainly know other whites who do.

Does telling truthful anecdotes about his white grandmother, anecdotes that strip away the veneer of political correctness, anecdotes that ring so honestly about many whites and how they regard blacks....mean that Obama was rejecting or seeking to distance himself from a family member whom he loves? Was Obama bringing his white grandmother down in order to lift himself up? No and no.

He was explaining, in his uniquely qualified way, that whites, even his own white grandmother, still carry with them today, racial fears and prejudices. Just as the black Jeremiah Wright has stated his racial prejudices, prejudices rooted in paranoia and too, Obama's white grandmother. Obama admitted that these kinds of fears and prejudices existed in his own bi-racial family. Should Obama, should America, simply reject and turn away from those, even those we love, who give voice to their fears and prejudices? Or should Obama, should America, face, honestly, the realities of our history, the realities of our lives, with the hope that progress can be made?

Obama refused to toss Jeremiah Wright OR his white grandmother onto a heap of rejection. Instead he embraces both black and white, warts and all, and with historical perspective, seeks to move us all forward.

This way is a new way, I think. At least I haven't seen it before now. A new way to face tough national problems honestly and openly. Not some Pollyanish nonsense, but instead, I think, refreshingly earthy and genuinely honest engagement with a very difficult issue in society.

I know there will be those who will not receive Obama's speech in the same way as I have.

I've been paying attention for a good long time, and though I'm certainly no expert, I've never seen anyone, ever, like this guy. JFK talked like a statesman, Reagan knew his way around a camera, Clinton breathed politics.....but none of them spoke so honestly about such a sensitive subject as Obama has now done.

Just in this one example.....where Obama crafted a speech about race.....he demonstrated what political leadership should look like in 21st century America.

Fearless, honest, intelligent, credible.



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