Monday, June 18, 2007

Barack Obama on race

One more passage from Barack Obama:

To say that we are one people is not to suggest that race no longer matters -- that the fight for equality has been won, or that the problems that minorities face in this country today are largely self-inflicted. We know the statistics: On almost every single socioeconomic indicator, from infant mortality to life expectancy to employment to home ownership, black and Latino Americans in particular continue to lag far behind their white counterparts. In corporate boardrooms across America, minorities are grossly underrepresented; in the United States Senate, there are only three Latinos and two Asian members (both from Hawaii), and as I write today I am the chamber's sole African American. To suggest that our racial attitudes play no part in these disparities is to turn a blind eye to both our history and our experience -- and to relieve ourselves of the responsibility to make things right.

Moreover, while my own upbringing hardly typifies the African American experience -- and although, largely through luck and circumstance, I now occupy a position that insulates me from most of the bumps and bruises that the average black man must endure -- I can recite the usual litany of petty slights that during my forty-five years have been directed my way: security guards tailing me as I shop in department stores, white couples who toss me their car keys as I stand outside a restaurant waiting for the valet, police cars pulling me over for no apparent reason. I know what it's like to have people tell me I can't do something because of my color, and I know the bitter swill of swallowed-back anger. I know as well that Michelle and I must be continually vigilant against some of the debilitating story lines that our daughters may absorb -- from TV and music and friends and the streets -- about who the world thinks they are, and what the world imagines they should be.

To think clearly about race, then, requires us to see the world on a split screen -- to maintain in our sights the kind of America that we want while looking squarely at America as it is, to acknowledge the sins of our past and the challenges of the present without becoming trapped in cynicism or despair.

Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (NY: Crown, 2006), 232-33

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