Race, Class and Obama

By , September 2, 2010 5:50 pm

For anyone interested in racial and ethnic harmony, it’s been a crappy summer.

A quick recap: Arizona’s immigration law passed; the NAACP took on Tea Party racism, and the Tea Party came back in a bad way; Andrew Breitbart took on the NAACP and Shirley Sherrod making all parties involved look bad, including Barack Obama; 1/5 of Americans think Obama is a Muslim in spite of factual evidence to the contrary and none to support it; there’s the controversy over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” that isn’t located in Ground Zero and is more of a community center than a mosque; and Dr. Laura used the word “nigger” 11 times to a black caller.

These moments and the lack of any progress on race show the country isn’t ready to engage and have an honest conversation about how race and ethnicity affect Americans. What’s worse is President Obama doesn’t appear ready to lead the country in this matter. This is a shame because he is the perfect person to do it.

First, he’s already done it before. In a 2008 speech responding to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright scandal, Obama spoke brilliantly about race:

I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams.

United States President Barack Obama makes a statement on the killings in the West Bank after meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, September 1, 2010.  UPI/Ron Sachs/Pool Photo via Newscom

That’s what a lot of the racial and ethnic stories that captured our attention this summer are about (except, perhaps, the Dr. Laura rant): Someone different from me is getting something I’m not. These issues aren’t just about race. They’re about class, immigration and jobs, too. They’re about race and money.

Obama is the embodiment of an American who can and has crossed multiple racial and economic groups and this is the second reason he should be talking more about these problems. He is the son of a white American and black Kenyan. He grew up in a working-class family in Hawaii as well as some time in Indonesia. He attended two elite Ivy League schools in the East, and he was a community organizer in Chicago. His life is a range of race and class in America. It’s multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and spans different geographic regions and economic classes.

Race and ethnicity make up part of who we are as individuals. For some, money is viewed as the means to make lives and families better. It’s viewed as opportunity. So, they are very emotional issues. Obama has proven himself to speak intelligently about them. At the same time, he can speak from his own life story to connect to many different American experiences.

In that 2008 speech Obama said, “Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.” Indeed. And getting heated and screaming at the people who don’t look like you isn’t the way Americans should be addressing it. He shouldn’t let political opportunists like Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, and Breitbart take the lead and bring attention to themselves by preying on the fears and insecurities people feel about race and class.

Obama can’t do it alone. Americans will eventually have to talk to each other honestly and calmly about race and class. If anyone can get the conversation going, though, and guide the nation toward a better understanding of itself, it’s Barack Obama.

See Also:
What Did We Learn About The Ground Zero Mosque Debate?
The NAACP Was Right About The Tea Party

2 Responses to “Race, Class and Obama”

  1. Rich says:

    I think the first line of the quote you use from Obama demonstrates the problem:

    “I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together”

    If anything has been demonstrated in the past two years, it’s that there is a contingent of this country that has no interest in solving “the challenges of our time.” Looking at the “Ground Zero Mosque,” the law passed in Arizona, and the character assassinations that have been carried out (Van Jones, Acorn, Shirley Sherrod) , some people see the challenges we face as political ammunition to vanquish the other side, rather than something to be overcome together.

  2. Bea says:

    Rich, I agree. Why should there be an attempt to solve anything when the results may put you out of a job? However, if citizens who have a stake in the direction of this country don’t vote this November; we will return to a political atmosphere consumed by maintaining the status-quo and forever closed to anyone who thinks or looks differently.

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