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.