"This is a big leap for the country [and] what I want to do is to make sure that we understand that my campaign is not premised on that, it's not premised on making history, but that, whoever is president, this is always going to be an ongoing issue that we have to struggle with and that, perhaps, I can lend some special insight into it."
After the Mississippi primary, in which Obama won 92 percent of the black vote and just 26 percent of the white vote, some political analysts perceived today's speech, where he highlighted race in America, as a make-or-break moment for his candidacy.
Obama disagrees. "If you just look at the mathematics and the popular vote of the campaign, we're in a good place," he said. "But one of the things that I've always believed is that this campaign couldn't just be about me, my ambitions, winning a nomination. The process itself had to reflect the changes I say I'm going to bring about when I'm president."
Obama believes giving a speech on race was necessary but concedes that it is a politically risky move. By embracing race and bringing it out in the open, he admits that he could be perceived as "the race candidate."
"Absolutely," he said. "And so, hopefully this is something that we have talked about, we've lifted up, it will spur discussion, like Robert Kennedy's wonderful metaphor, "ripples of hope." You know, you throw a rock into a pond and those ripples will go out. We don't know where those ripples will go. I have no idea how this plays out politically. But I think it was important to do."
Obama's message of unity and bridging the racial divide was interrupted last week, when controversial footage of his former pastor, Wright, traveled from the pulpit to the airwaves. One of the clips included the reverend blaming America for the attacks of September 11, leading some voters to question Obama's judgment.
"Well, as I said in the speech, this is somebody who'd preached for 30 years, probably three times on a Sunday and multiple times during the week, so we can do the math, but there are a lot of seconds there of talking. And essentially what's been created is a montage of some very offensive and disturbing language. And I don't excuse it at all; I've condemned it unequivocally."
Obama believes that the controversial video of Wright, which has angered many, is not representative of the preacher himself. "[It] was a caricature," he said. "For all his good qualities [Rev. Wright] is somebody that I've had strong disagreements with for a very long time, but he's somebody who helped to introduce me to my Christian faith. He is somebody who married Michelle and I. He baptized our kids."
"And my point, I think, was that you don't disown certainly the church, but you don't even disown a man simply because he says something that you profoundly and deeply disagree with. What I can do is condemn the words, but not condemn the man."
Obama points to the trial of O.J. Simpson to exemplify past divisions between blacks and whites.
"During the O.J. trial, there was a similar moment when the culture — you know, black and white culture — just had these completely opposite reactions and nobody understood it," he said, admitting his belief that Simpson was guilty.