Concettina Died and Other Stories of the East Side

On Race In America [UPDATED], posted March 19, 2008 at 12:48 AM

You've probably already seen snippets of this on the news, but it's worth watching Obama's whole speech on race.

There are too many highpoints to call out, so I'll just take one. About 20 minutes or so into the speech Obama talks about white resentment, an area of our nation's racial divide that gets precious little discussion. He describes it better than anyone I have ever heard, and brings it to light in a way that makes it not uncomfortable to talk about:

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that 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.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

It's high time to elect a serious intellectual to the presidency. Especially after the cynical and decidedly anti-intellectual administration we still have to survive for 300+ more days. It's high time to elect someone who cannot only deliver a great speech, but write it himself. Today Obama made me proud to be an American.

UPDATED 3/19/08 10:24am to add:
I'm happy to add that this New York Times editorial gets it totally right. Particularly glad because the Times has been rather slanted to Hillary throughout this campaign. They haven't necessarily been anti-Obama, but they've dismissed him in a way that neither reflects his standing in the race nor acknowledges what a savvy politician he is. In any event, this editorial is spot on.

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