Obama Parses Wright & Wrong in Race Speech

Comparing Wright to his maternal grandmother, he said, "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," Obama said, acknowledging that she was also "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 part of me," Obama said, reading the speech off a teleprompter in the small auditorium, "and they are part of America, this country that I love."

The set-up may have worked well on TV, though gave an odd feel inside the auditorium since he was often looking at the walls in the narrow room.

The candidate's wife, Michelle Obama, sat in the front row during the speech. She was very emotional and could be seen crying backstage after the speech was over, given the subject matter of her husband's oratory.

A Historical Context

The theme of both black and white racial grievances was one to which Obama kept returning; he had been determined to deliver a speech about race from the beginning of the campaign. It was the confluence of last week's Ferraro and Wright stories -- after he'd been peppered with questions on the Friday night cable rounds about how the pastor's inflammatory rhetoric squared with his message of unification -- that he told senior aides, "I'm going to give the speech."

Obama sought to explain Wright's anger, putting his comments in a historical perspective and citing "the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through" and saying that "understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point."

Citing segregation, legalized discrimination and a dearth of economic opportunities for black men, Obama said, "For the men and women of Rev. Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines or to make up for a politician's own failings. And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews."

Obama described the anger as "not always productive" but "real" and "powerful" with roots embedded in a "chasm of misunderstanding."

Pushing Beyond Racial Divides

Nodding to the expression by Ferraro last week that he wouldn't be where he is if he were white, Obama also took on grievances of "working- and middle-class white Americans [who] don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race."

"They worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor," Obama said. "They are anxious about their futures and feel their dreams slipping away. ... When they hear an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed, when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time."

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