Do You Touch the Third Rail?

At the birthplace of the United States Tuesday afternoon, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama addressed the issue of race in America as part of the Presidential campaign.  Race has always been one of the “third rails” of American politics: you can use it, hint at it, or ignore it, but don’t touch it!

Obama Philly Senator Obama’s speech was one of the most honest and informative on the topic that I’ve read.  Instead of trying to follow politically expedient routes, he instead talked about the issue in a way that I think all Americans can relate to. 

Regardless of our racial identity, almost all Americans have in their hearts a complex web of conflicting thoughts, feelings and experiences as it relates to race.  Even the most liberal-minded among us are tainted by the fears, innuendo, and racism we’ve been exposed to in our lives.

Even though the nature of the campaign for the White House encourages us to think about race in very reductionist ways, the issue is one that very much exists and very much influences our lives.  And yet, as the Senator points out, it is time to “move beyond some of our old racial wounds.”

“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 not yet made 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.”

Regardless of your political persuasion or, for that matter, nationality, I’d encourage you to take fifteen minutes to read the full text of Senator Obama’s speech.  For Americans, it gives some much-needed food for thought.  For people outside of the US, it provides an interesting insight into how the issue of race uniquely affects our country’s culture and politics.

The full text of the Senator’s speech is here.


16 thoughts on “Do You Touch the Third Rail?

  1. Wow! What a powerful speech. I like the challenge he gives to the people. So often people want to blame others instead of looking at the choices they have and can make. I think that Ashley’s story is a perfect example of taking a bad situation and making a choice to sacrifice in order to help others. I wish the news would cover more stories like that instead of the constant violence. Thanks for sharing that Chris.

  2. If you really like this speech, I would recommend Dreams from My Father, a brilliant book that goes into details of what he’s saying here. I have never read any politician’s memoir that touched me so profoundly.zacksamurai loves to make bold prediction! Democrats are splitting almost equally. There are tons of hardcore progressive-minded people who will keep soldiering on the first female president.It ain’t over till the former first lady sings.

  3. I actually listened to the whole thing. Well put on more than one point  I am a Clinton supporter, but I feel strongly he hit it on the nose! It was refreshing to hear someone other than Bill Cosby say what needed to be said and say it so well. Kudos to Obama.

  4. Ongkun, I am told that the former first lady cannot sing. But I am pretty sure she will have no problem carrying the  two big states of Pennsylvania and Michigan…a 52/48 maybe? A six week wait is an ethernity for me!

  5. If just Obama’s speech and vision “should DEFINITELY” make him the forty-fourth President of the United States, what would make Martin Luther King Jr. when he delivered the ten times more powerful speech “I have a dream”? Should he “DEFINITELY” be the Second Coming? Anyway, to respond to Obama’s speech, I have elaborated in my own blog.

  6. Chris: Like you said, “Racism is everywhere” but I guess no country has a social wound cut as deep as the US. Perhaps, although the slavery in this country has been abolished (by constitution amendment) for more than a century, the social prejudice had not dramatically changed until the civil right movement in the 60s. Even in 2008 when black culture is everywhere, I am sure, the prejudice towards race is still everywhere. And how the topic of racism is perceived by people outside the US? I don’t really think people who live outside this country really understand how serious of this issue permeate the American social fabric. Personally, I did not really know until I came to the US and read about the civil right movement.

  7. @sagicaprio – Very interseting perspective, Tae.  Thank you for sharing it.  I don’t often get into a conversation with people here about the topic, although it is interesting that I’ve had several Thai people tell me that when they went to visit the US they were scared of black people.  The funny thing, and particularly interesting as an American who has been subjected to the brainwashing of being “P.C.”, was how matter of fact they were when they told me.  Again, thanks.

  8. Chris: When I first moved here, I have to say I was scared of some black people as well. In retrospect, it’s a little irrational but I think that reaction was a by-product of Hollywood’s movies, particularly in the 80s and 90s when most of the bad guys (besides KGB in the 80s and some terrorists in the 90s) were blacks. I guess it effectively stereotyped the black people in our psyche. But after I have been here for several years, now, I have several black friends and we get along fine. There are a lot of nice and professional black people out there. I guess those scary stereotypes represent more about class than race.

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