RealClearPolitics – Articles – A Speech That Fell Short
Barack Obama has run a campaign based on a simple premise: that words of unity and hope matter to America. Now he has been forced by his charismatic, angry pastor to argue that words of hatred and division don’t really matter as much as we thought.
Barack Obama’s speech on race sounded like a prologue. All of his speeches do. While Barack’s old speech serve as a prolog to words on economic growth, national strength, and unity which have never come, now he promises sermons on racial differences and historical grievances. If Obama continues his pattern, he will not be any more specific this time.
This is too bad, because he recognizes the need for tackling his difficult issue:
But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.
The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.
So here are just two issues that Obama raised and then dropped. Both of them raise complex problems that just, workable, and future-oriented solutions. Which means, of course, Obama won’t bother. But I will:
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.
If Obama wants to do something more than running down his grandmother, he should address why an elderly woman should be fearful. For instance (Peterson, R.D. & Krivo, L.J. (2005). Macrostructural analyses of race, ethnicity, and violent crime: Recent lessons and new directions for research. Annual Review of Sociology, 31, 331-356):
The racial character of crime reflected in Russellâ€™s critique is based on more than media stereotypes. In the United States, blacks are a disproportionate share of those victimized, arrested, and imprisoned. In 2002, the rate of violent victimization was 34.1 per 1000 for non-Hispanic blacks compared with 26.5 for non-Hispanic whites (Maguire & Pastore 2004). Blacks now represent 38% of persons arrested for violent crimes, but they constitute only 13% of the U.S. population (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2003). In contrast, whites make up 60% of violent arrestees and 75% of the population. The most dramatic differences are for homicide, for which black rates of victimization and offending were 6.2 and 7.6 times those for whites in 2000 (Maguire & Pastore 2004).
This is a serious problem that needs a serious solution which is just, workable, and future-oriented. The solution would be complex, and involve multiple factors. Would it help to legalize many drugs, thus lifting some blacks out of the black market and into a white one? Yeah. Would it help to castrate violent criminals, preempting felons before they are even conceived? Yeah. Instead, Obama talks about “original sin,” a nicely theological concept that no one can do anything about.
Moving on. Education:
That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.
Obama seems to be talking about long term memory. All normally developed humans appear to have the same processing capacity one the appropriate knowledge is stored into long term memory, so the solution is increasing long term memory. In the context race this poses a problem of justice and advantage-maximization, because American blacks tend to possess less working memory, and thus have a harder time getting that information into long term memory in the first place. This implies that many blacks would benefit from more intense, more structured education with more worked examples. It also implies that if we are going to teach those with less working memory more intensively, classrooms may break down somewhat along racial lines. This rightly a a “red flag” in the minds of many, so either we need to justify it or find a different way.
Instead, Obama ignores the problem. His next paragraph starts: “And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright….” No, it doesn’t, Senator. It explains why you see serious problems, and join in with a race-baiting demagogue rather than propose policies to end those problems.
Obama’s speech was based on the idea that hateful words do not matter, and divisive speech that avoids the important issues is OK. If this is true, there’s no reason to vote for Obama in the first place.