In some ways, Barack Obama's speech on race last week was as brilliant as it was nuanced. But for all its rhetorical beauty, it was also an enormous step backward and, in the end, a rather self-serving call for more discussion about racial grievance in a country that has already done way too much talking.As an attack on identity politics and the politics of grievance, this is fairly standard stuff. But why is Rodriguez upset in particular that Obama also mentioned white backlash in his speech? There's no question that it's real, after all, and pretending that it doesn't exist won't make it go away.
....Those who praised the speech did so in part because it acknowledged the grievances that lie on both sides of the nation's most intractable racial divide. But that's also what was so wrong with it. The discussion of racial grievance — and other group grievances — has long since become an institutionalized part of American life, literally and figuratively. There are advocacy groups, think tanks, foundations and scholars who sometimes have produced groundbreaking work but who also have served to reaffirm the idea that American society is a federation of opposing, static and permanently aggrieved identities. Rather than push us beyond race, the institutionalization of racial identity as defined by grievance perpetuates the divisions of the past. The one new thing Obama's speech added to the dialogue was the inclusion of whites to the list of aggrieved (and angry) parties.
Why indeed. It's a measure of how toxic the Democratic primary campaign has gotten that my first thought when I read this column was not, "Does Rodriguez have a point?" but "Hmmm. I wonder if he's just criticizing Obama because he's a Hillary supporter?" (For the record: I have no idea who, if anyone, Rodriguez supports.) Unfortunately, that's pretty much the first thing I think when I read almost everything these days. Reason enough to wish this primary campaign were over.