I have been hesitant to weigh in here on Senator Barack Obama’s potential presidential candidacy because of the way we tend to talk at or past each other when it comes to dealing with race, among other reasons. However, given the historical nature of Obama’s campaign, the increasing rancor and racial divisiveness coming from the Clinton camp recently and Senator Obama’s speech about race and America today I felt compelled to share a few thoughts that I’ve been kicking around recently about race and politics in America today. By way of disclaimer, these opinions belong only to me and do not necessarily represent my church, family or Asian Americans in general.

Geraldine Ferraro, former Democratic vice-presidential candidate, lobbed this hand grenade last week:

If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept

I find this verbal attack astonishing on a number of levels. First, I find it difficult to believe that a seasoned politician who has been through the dirty business of a presidential campaign would not understand that her remarks would set off fireworks during this hotly contested nominating season. Second, I find the actual content of her remarks to be unbelievably ignorant — to suggest or insinuate that being African American today is somehow an advantage is utterly ridiculous and plays into the worst feelings of white resentment in America.

But ever more frustrating is her desire to continue this fight she initiated. After the Obama camp responded to her remarks, Ferraro launched another volley with racial undertones:

“Every time that campaign is upset about something, they call it racist,” she said. “I will not be discriminated against because I’m white. If they think they’re going to shut up Geraldine Ferraro with that kind of stuff, they don’t know me”

From what I can gather according to various media, the Obama camp did not accuse her of being a racist — and certainly Ferraro did not use outright racial epithets — but, rather, of playing the race card. Perhaps that is too subtle a distinction for our sound-bite political landscape, but there is a difference between some fool marching around in a white hood at a Klan rally and a politician playing to the racial resentment that might be stewing just beneath the surface of many voters (although, one might easily make the argument that dealing with blatant racism is a more straightforward proposition).

On top of all this, throw into the mix the uproar over words spoken by Rev. Jeremiah Wright about 9/11 and racism in America and we have not only a snapshot of what it means to deal with race in America today but also the setting in which Obama delivered his speech today. You can read a transcript of Senator Obama’s incredible speech here or view a video below.

It is rare to hear a such an honest, nuanced and, ultimately, balanced perspective on racial reconciliation from a politician. While his critics might claim that he didn’t set forth a wonky, ten point policy during his speech, I believe that his understanding and recognition of key underlying issues for people of different races is far more important. I recommend reading or listening to his entire speech, but I’d like to highlight a couple of sections in which Obama describes a way forward out of the “racial stalemate” of black anger and white resentment:

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances — for better health care and better schools and better jobs — to the larger aspirations of all Americans: the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who has been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for our own lives — by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny…

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination — and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past — are real and must be addressed, not just with words, but with deeds, by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

Although Obama specifically addresses the black and white communities in America, I appreciate his attempt to weave those particular narratives to each other and to the stories of other communities as well.

One columnist weighed in with her initial thoughts on Obama’s speech:

The bind Obama’s critics face is that as much as Obama called upon people to reject racism and focus on issues, there’s an implicit corollary: The way to show that you’ve moved beyond racism is to support him.

I’m not sure if this is meant as a criticism of his speech, but I think it’s important to remember that Senator Obama is running for the Democratic presidential nomination — of course his speech would suggest that he’s the best candidate to bring hope for change in our political landscape. And, frankly, I don’t hear many worthwhile things from other politicians when it comes to dealing with race and reconciliation.

Below, you can watch Senator Obama’s powerful speech in full:

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