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ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bit- terness of those years" (Obama. 2008b, p. 6). In other words, Wright was just one of many black people who still felt angry about the violent racism they endured in the 1950s and 60s; therefore, the American public should not single him out and scapegoat him for merely identifying with what so many others had felt.

The rhetorical choices Obama made in "A More Perfect Union" appropriately addressed the biggest rhetorical crisis of his campaign by promoting iden- tification with and among his audiences. By directly asking and answering the questions of concerned voters, Obama painted himself as an open and honest candidate who was unwilling to ignore or skirt past the controversy in front of him. Obama also chose to identify Wright with the Obama family, the community, and the American people, effectively explaining why Obama could not completely extricate himself from their relationship. Also, by associating Wright with the Civil Rights Movement, Obama argued that Wright was consubstantial with the numerous African Americans who remembered racist policies like segregation.

Taken together, these identification strategies helped Obama maintain his post-racial stance, appro- priately address the concerns of the American people, and ultimately transform the rhetorical situation from a specific controversy about Wright to a larger discus- sion about U.S. race relations and the role of race in American politics. Identification, however, is a janus- faced rhetorical strategy. It is always accompanied by division (Burke, 1969). The following section on Obama's strategic failures addresses how his identi- fication strategies held the potential to progressively alienate black audiences.

The Strategic Failures ofa Post-Racial Perspective

Obama's post-racial stance ostensibly increased identification among his non-Afriean American audi- ences hut potentially failed to maintain commensurate identification among his black audiences by 1 ) deem- phasizing his African influences, 2) eliding African American rhetorical traditions, 3) sanitizing the United States' history of racial injustice, and 4) problematically representing black and white Americans' experiences. Careful to not disturb the racial hierarchy, Obama failed to engage serious discussions of race relations in the United States partially by alienating himself from African and African American history and also by reify-

ing revisionist versions of race talk that hegemonically maintain the status quo.

Obama's first strategic failure was the de-emphasis of his African influences. He began his racial geneal- ogy by describing himself as "the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas" (Obama, 2008b, p. 2). He did not identify his father as an African man neither did he geographically situate Kenya in Africa. By describing his father as a black man. Obama extracted him from an African heritage. Furthermore, when he described his wife as a "black American" instead of an African American, he removed her from African influences as well (Obama, 2008b. p. 2). He admitted that she "carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners," but at no point in the speech were these slaves referred to as Africans (Obama, 2008b, p. 2). Obama emphasized Michelle Obama's mixed ances- try in order to dilute her experiences as a black woman of African ancestry. By acknowledging the slave owner ancestors in her blood line, Obama simultaneously ac- knowledged the unique aspects of the black American experience, celebrated the diversity of mixed black an- cestry, and distanced himself and his wife from African influences by choosing not to use the term. Obama used his personal history to create identification between himself and his diverse audiences, but by understating his and his family's African heritage, he ignored the horrors of the African slave trade and the beauty of the linguistic, spiritual, and cultural African Diaspora that has contributed to diversity around the globe.

Obama's second strategic failure of his post-racial perspective was his elision of African American rhe- torical religious traditions. Obama chastised Wright for expanding the racial lacuna without considering whether there was some measure of truth to some of his words. By refusing to cite anything spoken by Wright, audiences could not be sure which of Wright's inflammatory comments Obama condemned. One might assume that all of them should be condemned. Wright was certainly controversial, but his subject position was rooted in a black liberation preaching tradition that condemns injustice in society and urges God's people to resist it. Obama ignored what Frank and McPhail (2005) called a "spiritually inspired militancy" (p. 582) when he described Trinity United Church of Christ's virtues in terms of social welfare projects like "housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS" and not identifying the Church with social justice projects like boycotting discriminatory establishments, protest-


The Western Journal of Black Studies. Vol. 33, No. 3, 2009

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