Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama on racism in America: When words get in the way

I've been debating whether I should post this item. I don't want to come off as simply "attacking" Barack Obama for the sake of attacking him. But I do think it's important to point out that some of what he he says just doesn't match up. For example, he gave a speech on Tuesday which has been described variously as "epic," "groundbreaking," and "the most important political speech of his life." In that speech, Obama attempted to show us that he recognizes how wrong it is to make racial stereotypes, when he described his grandmother as:
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.
And I believed him. I believed that because of his biracial and international background that he was indeed above this kind of thinking. And then I read what he said on a Philadelphia radio station yesterday:
"The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity," he said. "But she is a typical white person. If she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know. . .there's a reaction in her that doesn't go away and it comes out in the wrong way."
And it kinda makes me cringe.

h/t to The Divine Dem


Morgan said...

Too bad he didn't phrase it in the way he probably meant, "she is a typical person of her culture and time". Being a Hillary supporter, I'm not making excuses for Barack; just recognizing that racism exist in all cultures in the U.S. Those trying to fight racism are actually pioneers in the correct verbage to use and set forth for our future generations. Unfortunately, we are so young at respecting all cultures as we do own that probably most individuals do not recognize that making a generality about a different culture is the same as calling out a slanderous name. I would venture to guess that the phrase he did use would have a higher precentage of being O.K. in people's minds in today's age than not.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

It was a gaff (the typical white person comment), I believe, far more than it was a mean-spirited indictment. And yet, the gaffs, they seem to be adding up lately, unfortunately. Of course, this tends to be what happens when these unvetted/untested candidates have a breakthrough. I wish we could get Biden back in that, even though he, too, was gaff-prone, at least he was an open-book about it.

Sue J said...

Morgan, I really went back and forth on whether to post this or not for just the reason you said, that's it really probably not what he meant. And is it being too "picky" to highlight this phrase. But in the end, he's being sold to us as someone who transcends these phrases, so if he falls right into their use, I think it's worth pointing out.

Will, I'm not sure about Biden, but you certainly are right that at least we know to expect foot in mouth occasionally with him!

Morgan said...

You are correct. He is selling himself as the candidate who is ahead of the game and that is the most unfortunate reason that he has not taught himself to speak as forward as he wishes to think. Or has he overlooked that he really isn't that forward thinking? In his position, he needs to really pause, just as a parent...the nation is listening. And that is one reason for my support of Hillary, she already knows how important the pause can be. Not just with our nation, but all nations. Bush can not even spell "pause". Look where that has gotten us as a nation.

Sue J said...

he needs to really pause

That's an excellent point. I think he's too "into" the oratory. It bothers me that people were moved by him in that big speech, and then he turns around and uses basically the same insensitive language he just spent 40 minutes denouncing.

And I hate being so cynical. But I listened to him and I read the speech, too, and thought maybe he really is up to the task of bringing us together. I had "hope." And then today, I felt completely insulted by him as a "white person," when he used the same thoughtless language we need to move away from.

Mauigirl said...

I think his choice of words was unfortunate; as Morgan said, I believe he was really pointing out that he wasn't talking about her to criticize her as being a bigot, the reason he mentioned her in the speech was to show her as an example of how many white people think, just as he was saying that Wright was an example of how many black people think. Saying "typical" in that meaning is not a bad thing; but unfortunately it will be taken that way by many.

Sue J said...

I have to disagree with you on that one, Mauigirl. I think if he wants to transcend issues of race, he needs to stop using a phrase like "a typical white person."

If he hadn't just given this major speech on the topic, maybe I would give him a pass on it. But to use "typical" about any racial or ethnic group in this context is very closed minded.

Change the scenario: what if McCain had said anything about "a typical black person." Would we be excusing him as just a matter of semantics. or would we say that's a racist thing to say?

Mauigirl said...

You're right, Sue, it definitely would not be excused if McCain said it. Point taken. And I do think that Geraldine Ferraro didn't mean to be racist by what she said either; it just sounded bad, just as this did.