waiting for for a generation. Its ability to embrace both the legitimate fears and resentments of whites and the understandable anger and dashed hopes of many blacks was, in my view, unique in recent American history.
And yet this masterfully given speech belied the con- tours of race and the effects of racism in the United States.
A speech of this caliber deserves careful critical interrogation because of its rarity and because of its impact on how the country will address issues of social justice. Can we assume that those voters and political pundits who gushed over the speech are also gushing over the idea of a post-racial society? Are they com- fortable with erasing African infiuences from the black American experience? Are all black people who talk about endemic racism and social justice merely angry people from the Civil Rights era? Do they believe that all Americans share the same frustrations? Do they ex- pect black men to remain subservient to white women? Answers to these questions lie in an analysis of reactions to the speech which is outside of the scope of this es- say. We can conclude from our analysis, however, that these perspectives are possible and permissible within the context of the speech.
Obama's political-personal crisis was colored by
race, but his response failed to include a productive analysis of race and that absence may have contributed to the text's success. A speech this effective at negotiat- ing a political-personal crisis is misleading because it looks, on its surface, as if it met all of its goals. This is not the case. Obama's more perfect union was peppered with imperfections in its sanitized history of race and racism in the United States. The speech failed to equally identify with the distinct experiences of black and white Americans. It is impossible to be fully post-racial in a society with such stark racial disparities. Although scholars have cautioned against the negative effects of race-neutral discourse, this essay contributes to the conversation by showing which aspects of post-racial rhetoric may help the rhetor but be detrimental to a productive discussion about race.
"A More Perfect Union" was not the incontrovert- ible word on race but a significant contribution towards understanding the role of identification in discourse about race to mixed race audiences. Specifically, we find that identification can be an invaluable rhetorical resource for raced candidates as they seek to build racial unity as long as they do not over-identify with select audiences. Our balanced reading of Obama's succes.ses and failures provides an alternative perspective on the speech that contributes to more complex analyses ofthe merits and disadvantages of post-racial discourse.
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The Western Journal of Black Studies. Vol. 33, No. 3, 2009