Barack Obama should win or lose his party’s nomination for the presidency based on the positions he takes regarding the great issues of our time and his capacity to lead the country at home and in the world. He must not win or lose because of the old politics of race in the U.S. That would be a tragedy for all of us.
Race exploded into the center of the media debate about the presidential race this spring when cable news stations and talk radio played carefully selected incendiary statements from Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the retiring pastor of Obama’s home church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Obama, while affirming the tremendous work his church has done in his city, condemned the most controversial remarks of his pastor. But the whole situation points to the enormous gap in understanding between the mainstream black community in the U.S. and the experience of many white Americans. That is what we are going to have to heal if we are ever to move forward.
Here is what I mean. There is a deep well of both frustration and anger in the African-American community. Those feelings are born of the concrete experience of real oppression, discrimination, and blocked opportunities—opportunities that most of America’s white citizens take for granted. African Americans across the spectrum of income and success will speak personally to those feelings of frustration and anger, when white people are willing to listen. But usually we are not. In 2008, to still not comprehend the reality of black frustration and anger is to be in a state of white denial—which, very sadly, is where many white Americans are.