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Foreign Policy In Focus » Article / Op-Ed

Obama Race Speech Analysis

March 20, 2008 ·

With his speech on race, Barack Obama has already brought about one much-needed change: people across the United States are examining our personal, systemic, and deeply entrenched racism

The Obama speech is in a word, powerful! Obama skillfully tackles what is in many ways a "third rail" issue in U.S. politics - race. In a country that a few short years ago walked out of the U.N. Summit on racism, and later failed miserably in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it seemed like race and justice were too far from the mainstream discourse to be addressed openly and honestly. Like the high power third rail in the railway track, politicians and co-workers alike feared the consequences of touching issues of race. Obama's speech changes all that. He elevates this pivotal issue at a critical moment. Obama gives a striking call to action, encouraging this generation to do its part - "on the streets and in the courts" to "narrow the gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of our time." Regardless of who wins in November, Obama's speech forces people in red State, blue States, and countries around the world to critical examine personal, systemic, and deeply entrenched racism and commit themselves to live the change we all can believe in.

Obama actually did a one-two punch in powerful speeches in one week. The speech on race on March 18 was followed the next day by Obama's most comprehensive speech on foreign policy to date. The March 19 speech, on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War, not only clearly laid out a plan for getting troops out of Iraq, but focused on the need for decreasing militarism and increasing diplomacy and development around the world. Obama also made a clear call for the end to nuclear proliferation, distinguishing himself from the other candidates.

Taken together, these speeches give great insight into the vision and values of a possible Obama presidency. The real test, however, will be the power of a newly energized movement of new, young, and more progressive voters to demand that Obama's powerful rhetoric is translated into actual policies that can bring the better world we all believe in.