In the shadow of Philadelphia's Independence Hall, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) sought Tuesday to free himself from lingering questions over the "complexities of race" in the United States and in his presidential campaign.
Obama gave a speech, titled "A More Perfect Union," at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center on identity politics and racial divisions in America -- issues he said "must be addressed."
The speech came in the wake of mounting unease about Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who has made comments some have perceived as racially divisive and anti-American. In one sermon, Rev. Wright proclaimed, "God damn America for killing innocent people."
Wright also criticized Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Obama's opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, as naive to think she can empathize with black Americans.
While Obama rejected Wright's statements as "incendiary language" that would "rightly offend white and black alike," he also explained Wright's comments in the context of America's ongoing racial divide.
Obama said much of the racial divide springs from "this nation's original sin of slavery" that was left "embedded" within the Constitution.
Despite the Obama campaign's promotion of the speech as one of the most significant of his candidacy, the NCC and his campaign did not seem prepared for the overwhelming media attention on the speech.
The speech itself was delayed while officials tried to find seating for the media, eventually forcing some journalists into an overflow room.
Initially defining himself as a "post-racial" candidate, Obama in Tuesday's speech re-postured himself as uniquely aware of the country's underlying racial tension. He noted that he has members of his family "of every race and every hue."
In perhaps the most notable, and passionate, part of his speech, Obama said, "I can no more disown [Rev. Wright] than I can my white grandmother," who he said held suspicion of black men walking by her on the street and who "uttered racial stereotypes."
But Obama moved beyond those transcendent ideals to address the practical problems that still face the country, such as the struggling economy, health care and education.
In one instance, he said "segregated schools were inferior schools" that "we still haven't fixed." He reminded the audience that discriminatory laws against blacks in the South gave rise to income gaps that still continue to this day.
Obama noted too that the frustrations generated in a struggling economy are often blamed on members of another race and that politicians sometimes expose those divisions to garner support.
He said Americans have been given a choice to accept or reject those divisions but that "nothing will change" if they continue, echoing long-standing themes in his campaign.
Obama also spoke about the frustrations of the white working class, saying those who are descended from immigrant communities "don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race."
In the final parts of his speech, Obama outlined what "a more perfect union" means to the black community and the white community in America.
"Let us be our brother's keeper," Obama said. "Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well."
© 2008 Daily Pennsylvanian via U-WIRE