I don't consider myself an Obama supporter, at least not politically. While I think he is inspirational on many levels, and I like his style, I disagree philosophically with him on many policy issues. That said, I grow more and more impressed with him as time goes by, and today was certainly no exception.
I have been following the recent controversy concerning the comments of Barack's pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright with mixed opinions. On one hand, having grown up as a member of the same denomination, the United Church of Christ, I know that these preachings are not representative of the entire denomination, despite what recent media clips might suggest. While I've since moved on spiritually, many members of my family are still very active in the denomination and not only is UCC not racist as a body, but I'd be surprised if nationwide, the membership was more than 10% black.
I also recognize that although the anger and vitreol of Rev. Wright's comments were extreme, I'd be lying if I said that I haven't heard those types of sentiments before. In fact, while I strongly disagree with the manner in which Rev. Wright's views were expressed, history bears evidence to generations of despicable treatment of blacks from slavery through Jim Crow and beyond. While most would have to agree that the state of the African-American union is much better than it was in my grandparents' generation, there is still work to be done to heal wounds that run so deep and to reverse the consequences of hundreds of years of unequal treatment.
Yet, on the other hand, I do reject the notion that all white people are evil, rich racists, as much as I reject the notion that all black people are illiterate criminals and drug addicts. I am blessed to have many very dear friends who are white, and I have heard some of the most racist statements uttered by blacks. I have been denied jobs because of my skin color and I received an academic scholarship to graduate school as part of an affirmative-action program. Was I qualified for those jobs? Absolutely. Was I smart enough to get into grad school on my own merits? Without question.
The bottom line is that race is not simply black and white. There are countless shades of gray, and as many perspectives on racial issues as there are skin colors. It is difficult, and dangerous, to rely on 15- or 30-second sound bytes or opinions from politically-biased pundits to develop meaningful positions on racial issues. As with any controversial subject, context, perspective, world-view and personal experiences are all inextricably bound in the tapestry of race relations. There are no easy answers to the pains that plague us or the divisions that still divide us, but one thing is certain. Unless we can begin to honestly, openly and humanely begin to discuss the very real issues of race in our culture, we will never be able to move beyond them. On this point, I agree wholeheartedly with Obama. Can America move forward? Yes, we can.
So forget the sound bytes. If you haven't heard Obama's speech in its entirety, it's worth 10 minutes to listen to it here.