From Kenya to Kansas, Barack Obama Talks About Race

This speech is just incredible. It actually made me weepy at the end. The whole experience question gets turned on its head when you listen to Barack Obama talk about his life experiences, and his awareness of the racism mixed with the love all around him as he grew up. Here is a man whose life experience can bring a different understanding to the world.

A small sample from the speech:

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

For a full transcript of the speech, go here.

14 thoughts on “From Kenya to Kansas, Barack Obama Talks About Race

  1. Barack Obama wants to both eat his cake and have it. He wants voters to rise above race and religion, while appearing religious himself. He is in deep trouble if a spotlight is placed on the non-racial aspects of his own THEOLOGY. See:

  2. I can relate to what he says about people of all races lacking basic access to health care. I see that every day. I see the incredible waste of money that comes from neglecting preventive care. This happens on a lot of levels, education and housing too.

  3. It was an amazing speech. It is now part of American history.

    America has milestones that come along once in century in her path to the “more perfect union”.

    The first was the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the second was the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, and the third was the New Deal in 1933.

    We are now on cusp of something new, another milestone, another revolution in our progress to a more perfect union, unification.

  4. Because I had to attend a meeting, I missed about the last five minutes of Obama’s speech. I’m sorry that I did. His last peroration must have been something to behold.

    I’m not one of those who think that this is the best speech ever delivered on the subject of race in America. I believe that the most courageous was the speech delivered by RFK from the bed of a truck in Indianapolis when he had to tell the assembled crowd the terrible news that Martin Luther King was dead. He did this, with no concern for his safety, from notes quickly sketched on the ride to the site. His remarks, delivered extemporaneously, in reaching out to the largely African-American crowd, sharing his grief with theirs, were largely credited with calming the local community so that no riots occurred.

    I think Dr. King’s speech in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial was the most galvanizing speech about race ever delivered. According to King’s biographer, Taylor Branch, that speech was almost not given. The organizers of the rally were resistant to King’s participation and it was only at the last minute that King was included on the program – at the end when all the “important� speakers had delivered their remarks. Thought to have been a slot in the speaker’s order that would deflect attention away from King, it turned out that King’s speech is the one most remembered. To this day, when I recall the words urging us not to judge people on the color of their skin but on the content of their character, I still tingle. Again, according to Taylor, King’s speech was largely extemporaneous.

    However, Obama’s speech today was nothing short of magnificent. I think discussing this in any political context is an insult to the content of this speech and the content of Obama’s character. What he did today, in the most dignified way possible, was to put the issue of race before the American people. He did it in an honest and non-confrontational way, seeking to reach out to all Americans by recognizing that all people are injured by racial divides.

    When I was young, my family would travel through the south by car on our way to vacation in Florida. This was in the late 1950’/early 1960’s. I remember the “whites only� signs on the doors of restaurants and the similar signs on motels along the highways. I remember the billboards telling all who might respond that they could stop integration by joining the KKK and they could impeach Earl Warren by joining the John Birch Society. For two years, I attended a high school in Daytona Beach – this school was “integrated� in 1965 by sending one black student to that school. When asked why only one black student was sent to Seabreeze Senior High, the chair of the school committee responded that if the kid lived throughout the year, others would follow. The good news is that the kid lived, more followed and that school is diverse today. But that year for that kid had to have felt like a decade in lapsed time. The better news is that by the end of that year, many of the school’s students learned that this single African-American shared many of the same desires, goals and fears that the rest of us had. We learned first-hand King’s admonition about the content of someone’s character.

    As a society, we have come a long way, but we still have miles to go. Race is the most pervasive unspoken issue that drives policy decisions in our country. Our criminal justice procedures/post-conviction policies are tainted by race. Our social welfare policies are poisoned by the perception of racial bias, even though there are more poor whites than any other racial group. Affirmative action and equal opportunity programs and policies are pilloried because they give preference to one racial group over another. Education programs mandate the transfer of scarce resources away from some to benefit others who are victims of decades and centuries of abuse and discrimination. Housing programs wither for fear that new residents will disrupt racially homogeneous neighborhoods.

    Obama spoke of these kinds of programs today and characterized them for what they are – a zero sum game. By their nature, zero sum games promote division rather than unity. Zero sum games induce rancor and stoke hatred by those who lose toward those who gain. Politicians demagogue on these issues and people get hurt. Families are disrupted and destroyed, and passing generations incrementally lose hope and belief that the life that they see on a daily basis with their own eyes, with so many of us well off and enjoying the material good life in America, is available to them.

    It’s not just blacks who suffer, nor Hispanics or Asians, but whites suffer as well. We all suffer when anyone is thwarted from becoming what he/she could become. We all suffer the same lost opportunity to benefit from the contributions from those who are left behind. And everyone suffers equally, whatever race they may be, if they are at the bottom of our economic pyramid. Black, white, brown, or yellow – it is an insult to tell those at the bottom that they should be happy with table scraps while the few at the top enjoy the full benefits of the banquet that is America.

    When I taught high school history, I’d point out that gender and race (as well as age) were not the issues in the post civil war west that they were in the south and east. The reason was simple – all the “isms� (race, sex, age, etc.) were luxuries that people dependent on each other for their survival could ill afford.

    Each of us is dependent on one another. The “isms� that divide us only serve to advance the interests of those with vested interests in keeping others down. There are those who will say that Obama’s speech today was politically motivated – and in part, so it was. But, that’s beside the point for if nothing else, it was also a clarion call to all of us to look anew at ourselves and each other and take stock of who we are and who we want to be. In short, it was an invitation to all of us to begin the messy and sometimes painful process of reaching out to one another in order to discover that which we have in common and work on those issues that divide us.

    Obama reminds us that we have not attained that “more perfect union� but we have made progress. We have more to make. And in this election year, if nothing else and no matter the outcome, we all owe Barack Obama great thanks for his speech today.

  5. Geoff, thank you. what I hear from elderly white rhode islanders is dismay over the cuts to their own benefits and worry about the cuts to children’s services. (remember that they have grandchildren.) they say that they fear for coming generations because the wealth of this country is squandered on war and corruption. perhaps we are ready for a new direction, to focus on our common needs and concerns. thirty years of the politics of divisiveness has left us wanting someone to talk sense and decency.

  6. Christian Prophet needs to read his/her Bible a bit more closely.

    Acts, 2:44

    All the believers agreed to hold everything in common: they began to sell their property and possessions and distribute to everyone according to his need.

    Sounds like Christian theology to me. And I’d like to see CP cite a passage in which Jesus says that laying up treasure in this world is a good thing. I’d say CP is the one needing a lesson in theology.

  7. Would MLK approve of what this Reverend said? There was mostly offensive, scary stuff being told to young impressionable children. Children that grew up with such “words” make them damaged.

    I grew up with similar “words”. Only my words were “no good” “you’re stupid” etc. It took many years of working on my self esteem and denouncing and cutting off the source for saying hateful things.

    Now, this seemingly nice, handsome man comes forward with only a few years experience as a Senator. What exactly quantifies him to be President? Who will be his confidants in the Global Office? How can his wife make similar controversial statement about American pride, and having never “felt it” until (ironically) her husband is running for President. I have some huge reservations.

    I have been to many Churches and gone with my blackside of my family to Baptists churches. Churches that don’t preach hate such as the one Obama attended and was guided by in many respects of his life.

    Let’s look at Iraq and the terrorists groups. They raise little people in hate and their rhetoric, and these impressionable children follow the word of authority growing up to be outright haters or have a subconscious that deeply covets this hatred. He says he’s a black man…yet he throws the white card in when addressing a white state with my mom is white. I hate this style.

    He is making this a race issue and I am bothered that we do not know enough about what specifically is going to be done…other than give hope. I have hope for any new administration that doesn’t resemble Bush & Co.

    Although Geoff eloquently points out some of the hopeful, nice things about Obama. I can’t help but see MLK and JFK storming up to that Reverend and telling him shame on his obnoxious stories.

    I do not like Hillary’s personality – but, I’m one of those parents that think parents should be just that and not buddies with their kids (although later in life that is something they hopefully will become, but it is not the objective while bringing them up). Similarly, I am choosing a President based on experience and those around them….and yes, the “words” that influence their being. I see this as the big picture.

    I agree with Christmas Past….I too got weary eyed and felt sucker punched with the stinging words of that Pastor!

  8. last night on NPR Ambassador Andrew Young, who is supporting Hillary Clinton, defended Dr. Jeremiah Wright, the controversial former pastor of Barack Obama’s church, saying that Wright’s words had been picked out of his sermons and presented without context or any sense of the whole body of his ministry.
    in my three years in a white pentecostal church, i heard two flaming sermons a week. the pastor defended the kent state shooting, and later defended the shooting of a teenager who broke into the church and was shot trying to run away. maybe that’s why unitarian niceness doesn’t get boring for me.
    i’m fine if we all lose the fire and brimstone and stop demonizing each other. i think Barack Obama did a fine job of pointing out some ways to do that.

  9. Doesn’t matter where these words were picked. The context is self evident, and Obama will be forever linked to the kook that uttered them.

    “We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye,” Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.

    “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost,”

  10. This is yet another example of killing the messenger and missing the message. Yes, Rev. Wright’s words were extreme, but the essence of his argument — that America has waged wars, killed millions of people in other countries, and propped up murderous dictatorships while our Presidents have “justified” these actions with little more than “Well, it’s us, what are you going to do about it?!” — is correct.

    If Sen. Obama is saying that he agrees with this concept — that, in fact, America has a past that we have reason to be ashamed of — then I find more reason to support him, not less. We don’t need more of the wild-eyed bumper-sticker rhetoric that passes for “patriotism” these days.

    So, GCF, dismiss the Rev. Wright as a kook (I’m always amazed at how easily blog posters can convince themselves that someone else is wrong simply by calling them names — congrats), but I believe that this nation can and should do better than it has before.

    Which leads me to an overarching thought:

    I believe this election is really the first election of the Twenty-First Century. Bush, Cheney and the neocon chickenhawks are still fighting 1991’s war (and losing). McCain is likewise a throwback to might-makes-right. Hillary is somewhat better, but she’s running the 2000 election all over again (A Bush or a Clintonite?). Obama is not an old war-horse; if for no other reason than his youth and optimism, he’s the right candidate.

  11. …”Doesn’t matter where these words were picked. The context is self evident…”

    I can find you the quote in the Bible that says “There is no God.”

    You cannot separate words from their context. To suggest otherwise is simply foolish.

    And what about Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who said that America got its just desserts on 9/11 because of all the immorality? And that’s not taken out of context.

    Or what about Charles Hagee, before whom John McCain prostrated himself in a transparent ploy to win votes? McCain and the Evangelicals have not exactly been best friends, but McCain went out of his way to gain his endorsement? Hagee has called the Catholic Church the Great Whore, the anti-Christ, and a cult. And, with this record, McCain sought him out and sought his endorsement.

    Where is your condemnation of these fine, upstanding gentlemen? Or do you agree with them? Is it only hate when liberals say it? IOKIYAR, I guess.

  12. klaus:

    I’m still a bit behind on my acronyms. IOKIYAR — “It’s OK if You’re a Republican”?

    Oh, and you’re forgetting Rod Parsley, someone McCain calls a “spiritual guide” and who also calls on Christians to wage a war against the “false religion” of Islam.

    read more here:

    You’re correct to point up the double standard here. Seems that right-wing evangelical zealots whose goal is “conversion of the unbelievers” (which seems to mean gays, minorities, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, etc., etc.) can get away with hate-speech, but left-wing (not to mention black) preachers whose missions include feeding the poor, creating prison ministries, and standing up for equal justice under the law — what a concept! — must be punished for using divisive (albeit far more true) language. I’d also note that Obama has distanced himself from the Rev. Wright multiple times, while McCain is embracing the likes of Falwell and Parsley.

    This is another reason I’m for Obama this year: he’s not taking the politically expedient (read: pandering) route.

    (And GCF, please spare me the diatribe about linking to Mother Jones.)

  13. yeah, and I really appreciate that Obama doesn’t throw his old friends under the bus at the first sign of right wing smear like a former president I won’t name.

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