I've read the transcript of Obama's speech a few times now. He's been attacked for being all talk, but this speech, said to be one that he wrote himself (unique only in how few of our leaders, political or business, write their own speeches and statements and quotes these days), reveals how and what he thinks. In that, words matter a great deal.
What do his words reveal? That he has a deep understanding and empathy for the racial hurt in this country, an unwillingness to reduce the complexity of these issues to politically digestible soundbites, and an honesty that has made him the most refreshing and exciting candidate in politics in my lifetime.
He speaks of Reverend Wright, denounces his pastor's' words, and yet does not forsake him. Who among us doesn't have one racist relation whose views have made us roll our eyes in exasperation or disgust, and yet in every other respect is a person we care for?
And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.
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.
These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.