Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Barack Obama on race- a bigger man than his critics (and some of his friends)

It is worth spending a few minutes reading Barack Obama's speech on race that he made in Philadelphia today rather than just relying on the sound-bites. This is a powerful rhetoric of renewal and unity. It posits the American republic as not perfection but opportunity. Ultimately, it confronts division head-on, acknowledging where injustice has cause, and how justice requires understanding and recognition. Rather than pretending that race can be ignored or those who feel a sense of grievance can be dismissed, it understands suffering and presents a common mission to combat deprivation, develop inclusive public services, and build a society based on mutual support.

As we grapple with how to confront thorny issues of ethnic divisions within Britain itself, it is worth reading this speech and learning its lessons. At the end of eight years of Bush, it is rather easier for Obama to be honest about the plight of black, brown, and white alike. But if we are to diffuse divisions in our own society which have economic as well as security causes, there needs to be a language of common struggle that unites. Perhaps that would be a better foundation for a discussion about Britishness in the 21st century?

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