Wednesday, March 19, 2008

a leader emerges

Something remarkable happened in Philadelphia yesterday.

Rarely is it possible to witness something historical and recognize it for what it is: a watershed moment, a standard by which all future moments will be measured. But that's exactly what we watched yesterday when Barack Obama delivered his powerful, poignant and personal speech on race relations in America, challenging all of us not to wash this under a carpet, not to pretend everything is OK in the name of normalization of our social relationships, but to deal with it. As Jon Stewart noted on the Daily Show, he did what no politician ever dares to do: he spoke to us on a critical issue as if we were adults. And in this speech, in this incredible moment--did you feel it?--the earth shifted.

Nothing Obama said yesterday will or can have an immediate impact on the legacy of 300 years of mistreatment and mistrust between the races in America. No one man and no one speech can work that particular miracle. But what Obama did yesterday was significant: instead of taking the easy and obvious route away from his Reverend Wright problems, he confronted them head-on and then did more: he demanded that we confront them too. Instead of pandering to our better self-perceptions, he spoke to us as if we were adults, saying yes, yes, there are serious race issues in this country, and yes, we all have them. Even the best of us--his own beloved white grandmother, for example--have racist emotional reactions brought on by generations of fear, generations of hatred.

Blacks, whites, Latinos, we all possess these flaws in perception; we all find it much easier to place blame than to confront the underlying causes. And blame is so very easy to place: we can see so clearly where it belongs. Blacks can see so clearly the way that white people have help them in check, have arranged things in such ways that their ability to transcend poverty and poor education has been even more difficult than it should have been. Whites see so clearly the affirmative action programs that take jobs and college placements out from under them and hand them to blacks whose scores and credentials pale next to their own. Latinos see a country in which not only their skin but their language is a barrier to any kind of success, a country in which white and black alike are out to get them. Blame is just so very easy to fix.

What is not easy is facing the causes and trying to address them. Facing the causes involves admitting that we are each in some measure responsible for this state of affairs. No, we did not create it; it was here long before anyone's great grandparents were born. But we perpetuate it every day that we don't stand up and rail against it. Keeping quiet, pretending it is fine when it most obviously is not, is every bit as much of a problem, Barack Obama tells us, as the racist and incendiary statements made by his former pastor. These are opposite sides of a single coin, and it is a poison currency. Its poison is insidious: it seeps into our souls and our minds if we hold it in our wallets, if we keep it too close, if we don't let it go.

Ironically, then, the very hateful vitriol that spewed from the mouth of Reverend Wright that Obama so correctly condemned can be credited with catalyzing the moment that, thanks to the Senator from Illinois, we now so suddenly find ourselves on the brink of. To rid ourselves of the poison currency, we must spend it. Reverend Wright spends his with (undeniably too much)vigor. Too many of us, holding ours close to the vest, the silent side up, never let it go. Barack Obama told us yesterday that this will not help solve the problem. His challenge to us is to face our fear, to face our complicity in it, to face ourselves. His challenge is to discuss openly what Derrick Ashong called the elephant in America's living room.

It will not be easy. Such things never are. But this is a seminal moment in American history. And if you are completely honest with yourselves, you will know that it is the only true and American thing we can do. But it is not the tactic that committees and advisors would ever come up with. This one comes from the heart. Does anyone seriously want to proffer the argument that, on their best possible days, Hillary Clinton or John McCain would have dared to make a speech like that one? And not only to make it, but to write it as well?

Barack Obama's run to the Presidency began with a speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention meant to inspire, and for that he has been labeled by some as all rhetoric, a brilliant speaker but, to cite a retort from a long-ago campaign, "where's the beef?" In Philadelphia, in a 37 minute speech that required all of the audacity and all of the hope that he is capable of, Barack Obama looked America in the eye and showed us that he is here to do far more than to inspire.

He is here to lead.


No comments:


it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

xkcd - A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and