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the welfare trope brought him into a potentially racist realm of political discourse. Despite acknowledging the "complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through." Obama's speech made clear that he was not going to heal that divide at the expense of his more perfect union (Obama, 2008b, p. 5).

In addition, Obama's general tendency was to hold blacks responsible for racial progress. When he described Americans who were willing to "do their part." protesting and struggling "on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience." images of primarily African Americans likely came to mind (Obama. 2008b. p. 2). Those who risked their lives for equality and justice during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements were primarily young black people. Throughout U.S. history, the oppressors —that is, the slave owners, the slave traders, the segregation- ists, and the variously biased representatives ofthe U.S. govemment—were not part of this power struggle. They were not identified and they were not held accountable here. The responsibility for justice continues to lie with those who have been oppressed. Obama (2008b) actu- ally urged the African American population to "bind our particular grievances...to the larger aspirations of all Americans" (p. 7). Does that mean racial injustice should be overlooked for the greater good? Is racism less important than the concerns of all Americans? Obama suggested that focusing on better health care, schools, and jobs was more important than the racial divisions that create disparities in health care, education, and employment.

Although Obama depicted blacks as primar- ily responsible for righting racial wrongs, in his final anecdote, the powerful dénouement of the speech, Obama portrayed whites as overseers of the struggle. According to Davis (2000). the trope of white liberal saviors who sacrifice themselves to help blacks become more like whites is legendary in African American literature and in practice. Obama revived this trope as he told the story of Ashley's commitment "to organize a mostly African American community" and narrated her struggles against injustice (Obama. 2008b. p. 9). After privileging Ashley's lived experiences. Obama included the response of a nameless elderly black man to her plight. The man said. "I am here because of Ashley" (Obama, 2008b, p. 9). Obama's more per- fect union was premised upon a nameless subservient black man who shared the desires of his white female organizer. Historically black men were conditioned to acquiesce to white women out of fear of being lynched. Forfiftyyears black men were systematically murdered

for infractions as slight as preparing to glance in the direction of a white woman. The racial paranoia of the black brute's "sexual retribution" for victimizing pure white womanhood was the foundation for Restoration, mob violence, de facto, and de jure segregation and yet Obama proudly alluded to it within the context of a more periect union (Mendelberg, 2001 ). Obama (2008) urged his audiences to move beyond race "in the same direction: towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren" (p. 2). We urge our audiences to understand that this better future was compromised by Obama's perpetuation of racist tropes.

Despite his attempts at unity and universality, Obama's speech ultimately failed to build a more per- fect racial union because of his over-identification with non-African American audiences through the elision of black history and the use of raced stereotypes at the expense of black audiences. As a raced candidate run- ning a post-racial campaign, Obama may have resolved his personal crisis but the perpetual socio-political crisis surrounding race and racism remained unresolved in his speech and possibly in his presidency.


Public discussions of race in the United States are rarely afforded the wide exposure or support that Obama's speech has enjoyed. In fact, the speech was instantly lauded as "perhaps the most important pt)litical speech since John Kennedy's in the 1960 presidential campaign, when he took on the issue of his Catho- lic faith before an audience of Protestant ministers" (Dumm, 2008, p. 318). The speech has received many accolades for meeting its rhetorical exigencies and effectively calming the nation's fears about Obama's potential racialized radicalism. A New York Times (2008) editorial states, "It is hard to imagine how he could have handled it better." James Fallow (2008) of The Atlantic asserts, "It was a moment that Obama made great through the seriousness, intelligence, eloquence, and courage of what he said. 1 don't recall another speech about race with as little pandering or posturing or shying from awkward points, and as much honest attempt to explain and connect, as this one." Andrew Sullivan (2008) of "The Daily Dish" similarly celebrates the speech:

I do want to say that this searing, nuanced. gut- wrenching, loyal, and deeply, deeply Christian speech is the most honest speech on race in America in my adult hfetime. It is a speech we have all been

The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 33, No. 3, 2009 161

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