MSNBC provides this transcript of Obama’s speech today. As you likely know he is under fire for comments his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, made in sermons over the years. This speech is quite masterful as it rejects Wright’s characterizations but recognizes the reality that is behind his angry judgments about American politics, racism, injustice, and place in the world. He shows the parallel with white anger for being held accountable for the sins of our early fathers. In both cases, impolite speech is understandable but not helpful. He says,
Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze
What should we do? He tells us to take responsibility for our lives, reject victim mentalities, insisting on justice for all, acknowledging the legacy of discrimination, rejecting cynicism, working together as opposed to for our own good alone.
He’s right. When we see hyperbole, we must acknowledge the truth at the center. Fact: we have been arrogant snobs in dealings with other countries. It shouldn’t surprise us that if we kick the dog, the dog bites back. Fact: The country wants equality as long as it doesn’t cost anything. We keep complaining, but until we all agree that my neighbor’s struggle is my own, we won’t see much change.
He’s wrong. Trying harder and being truthful about racial reconciliation progress is good, but it is not enough. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, the breaking of our pride, the demand that our individual identities take precedence over that of God’s humble servants, we’re not likely to make much more progress. Legislation helps curb our sin, but it does not stop the seed of racialization. Only the Cross does that. Isaiah’s prophecy is that God is going to discipline his people so that cannot put their trust in man–whether he is bad (e.g., Ahaz) or good (Hezekiah). He lays us bare then He brings us into Zion so that we know that it is His power and holiness that makes us his people.
One final note from his speech. See how he explains why he doesn’t reject a friend who has said stupid things. In my mind this is how we ought to talk about each other instead of throwing them under the bus in order to get what we want:
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. 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, but 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.