Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Obama Speech

Reflections on the Day of Resurrection
by Charlie Leck

The last thing in the world I wanted to do on Easter Sunday morning was to write about “the Obama speech,” as it is being called by everyone. I should be writing about hopefulness and new life, joy and celebration, compassion, justice and peace. Hold it! Maybe I am.

The opinions about Obama’s speech last week certainly “cover the waterfront.” They range from the hyperbolic praise that called it “one the greatest and most important speeches in U.S. political history,” to downright hateful expressions cast in racist ugliness. I’ve read hundreds of thousands of words of analysis in the aftermath of the speech and they’ve indeed got my head spinning.

It’s time to step back, to see if I can apply some fresh thinking to the subject. Just remember this: There is a chance this blog may crash and burn before making a safe landing. Hold on for the ride!

Here’s the way I approach the columnists across America who write opinion about politics and life in our nation. I’ve been a junky of political commentary for so long, that I know who I like and who I trust. More importantly, I know who, over time, proved to be the most correct and accurate in their commentary; that is, when they are judged months and years after their expressed opinions. So, I read the commentators I trust the most first. Then, if I have time, I scan through a bunch of those at the second level to see what they’re saying. On Tuesday, the 23rd of April, I’ll give you a summary overview of what the commentators have been saying.

This morning, however, let’s start with the opinion of an 18 year old African-American young man from Saint Paul. Danez Smith doesn’t want this to become a national issue.

“The question is,” Smith said to a local reporter, “can he keep it an issue without it becoming the issue?”

Now there’s a young man with some common sense about politics.

“He can’t let that happen; otherwise the whole campaign will be about a black man running for president.”

Here’s the interesting phenomenon that has been set in place by the Obama speech. Up to this point, as Shelby Steele predicted in a number of speeches, essays, and in his book, Barack Obama has been an unknown quantity. He’s been viewed as safe, even though many of us wouldn’t be able to say a lot of substantive things about him. I’ve written about this in the past. Now Obama is being viewed by many people in the light of the remarks that have been made by his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Those remarks, in a number of sermons he preached to his Chicago congregation, have shown the mother-lode of anger, hate and pain that runs deep in the black psyche. We, who are white, simply can’t understand nor identify with the intensity of the black pain caused by slavery.

“Get over it!” That’s what many white people in American scream back at a remark like the one I just made. I have two brothers who shriek it at me. “Get over it!”

The problem with that attitude is that it misses the point all together. It isn’t the black American who needs to get over it. We, who are white, are the ones who need to move past this.

We are the ones who have been too proud to beg the forgiveness of those who were so unfairly dragged in chains to the shores of this nation.

Oh no, the white attitude is that it wasn’t we who did this. It was another generation from another time and in a different situation. We need to understand that neither was there a great apology from those earlier generations of white people. Even the great emancipator said that he freed the black man only because he could do no else and still save the Union. There was no great, agonizing speech from Abe Lincoln that begged those slaves’ forgiveness on the part of the land of the free and the brave.

Today’s white person, in chorus, must admit to the sin and then set things right for those earlier generations of Americans who failed to do it – whether northern or southern citizens. Once we understand the depth of the wound with which black people live, then real reparation may begin. Perhaps, then, hatred and fear may come to an end.

Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s great preaching ability lay in its hyperbole. Lord, if I don’t understand that only too well. He is a man who can scream all those things at the top of his lungs and then come down out of the pulpit to hug every man, woman and child, regardless of color, and express the love of Jesus to them.

Most people who listen to a 20 second sound bite of one of Wright’s sermons are just too literal in their orientation. Wright is carefully educated in the terms of mythology, metaphor, allegory and symbolism. To understand the soul of his rants, one has to appreciate the breadth and depth of his mind and experience. This is not easy for the white man (and I used the gender specificity advisedly because it is easier for the white woman) to appreciate Pastor Wright’s comments.

As for me, I am not going to turn my back on Pastor Wright and walk away from his comments. I’m going to understand that he has a point. The black American has a perfect right to deal with his hatred. I can handle it. Wright, in the long run, is an understanding and forgiving man and I am willing to seek that forgiveness so that real communications with him may then commence.

Barack Obama understands all this. It has been a part of his life and he has had to juggle these feelings within his own life even while he sought success in the white world. In doing so, he has shown his genius. This is what his incredible speech was all about.

If you are going to be a literalist, you are not going to understand.

If you weren’t able to read Moby Dick and understand it was NOT a story about a white whale, then you will not understand the complexity of being Barack Obama – a white man and a black man, at the same time – in America.

My appreciation for Obama only grows with each passing day, as I understand how well he deals with the complexity of his life. To steal from his book, “what audacity” to hope so fiercely for a new day and a new world!

On this Easter morning, the sun has just broken out from behind the clouds and sprung through the windows of my study and it is blinding me. If you are a literalist, you will miss the point of the resurrection; and, instead, you will run around arguing about evidence, physical bodies, wounds in the flesh and your place in heaven.

To those of you who can really appreciate the truth of Easter day, I have the audacity to say one single thing only: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!


Come back on Tuesday for a summary review of thecommentary on the Barack Obama speech.

1 comment:

  1. the concept of white guilt is not new. It's been passed from generation to generation, paying, feeling guilty, but for how long should caucasians pay for this horrific event? Should jews make Germans pay for the Hollocaust? Should Native Americans make any American pay for stealing their land as well as their lives? The list goes on, especially if we go back in history - no matter the century. None of these events supercedes the other. I, for one, am ready to see no exploitation or guilt of past events. So, forgive me, if in the spirit of Easter, I don't join you in your reasoning.