Responding to Reader’s Comments About Obama’s Speech

By Rinku Sen Apr 09, 2008

I wanted to reflect on the comments that came into racewire and youtube after my post on Barack Obama’s speech on race. This is in no way an endorsement of his campaign. I don’t agree with all of Obama’s analysis and policy ideas, but I do think he gave us the biggest opening we’ve had to talk honestly about race in the mainstream in 30 or 40 years. A lot of people wrote in mad that he talked about black anger and white resentment together, as though they were equally responsible for the racial divide. I disagree profoundly with that reading of the speech. I think he did us a huge favor by identifying the racial stalemate, which I experience as people of color asking for equity, which white people recast as a demand for special rights. Many of the policy changes important to communities of color would also benefit large numbers of white people, but racial resentment leads whites to resist those solutions. If racial justice activists can’t redirect white resentment away from communities of color toward elites, exactly what Obama tried to do when he talked about corporations, this dynamic continue to block our best policy ideas. More importantly, I think we have to take every opportunity to bring racialized policy issues into the open. Structural racism is well hidden—the system churns out inequities in a way that doesn’t require doesn’t actually require anyone to be intentionally racist. We should be rewarding, not punishing, anybody who gives us a chance to point that out. The worst thing we can do at this point is to reinforce the impression that institutional racism has no solution. If we dismiss the people who tyr to make space for the conversation because their analysis doesn’t meet our high standards, then people are going to stop trying. I am not at all suggesting that we lower our expectations of our public officials. I’m simply saying that its important to control our knee jerk criticisms of mainstream politics so that we don’t miss any chance to show our politicians, and ourselves, what it means to do the right thing. If someone opens the door even a little bit, we need to walk through it.