- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama this morning said the incendiary remarks his pastor has made about racism in America provide an opportunity for a national discussion about the sensitive topic, although he said he still believes they express “a profoundly distorted view” of the United States.

“I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community,” Mr. Obama said from Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center during a speech his campaign billed as a major address about racial unity.

The speech, dubbed “A More Perfect Union,” came after days of criticism of Mr. Obama’s longtime pastor, the now-retired Rev. Jeremiah Wright, for remarks some considered inflammatory about the United States and racism.

Mr. Wright “contains within him the contradictions — the good and the bad — of the community that he has served diligently for so many years,” said the senator, from Illinois.

“I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother — a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe,” he said. “These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.”

Mr. Obama said his Trinity United Church of Christ “embodies the black community in its entirety,” with dancing, laughter “and sometimes bawdy humor.”

“The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and, yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Wright “has been like family” to Mr. Obama, his wife Michelle and his two daughters, who were baptized by the pastor. Mr. Obama said he knows more about Trinity United Church of Christ than has been replayed on television. Mr. Wright is “a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another,” Mr. Obama said.

The speech this morning was a critical moment for Mr. Obama, who has long said he seeks a politics that transcends race and gender but who has been mired lately in racially charged controversies.

He reminded supporters gathered for the speech about Geraldine Ferraro’s remarks that Mr. Obama would not be in such a high political position if he were white, saying Mr. Wright’s sermons and Mrs. Ferraro’s comments provide an opportunity for real racial discourse.

He called for people to come together and talk about racial inequality in schools and urban centers.

“Race is an issue I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now,” he said. “The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through — a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.”

He said racial anger from any person is “not always productive.”

“All too often, it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change,” he said. “But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.”

Mr. Obama noted that the founding documents created in the hall across the street were “stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery” but that the answer to the problem was “already embedded within our Constitution — a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.”

He outlined his own story — his father was from Kenya, and his mother was from Kansas. He was raised by white grandparents and struggled to understand himself through the prism of his own race for most of his adolescence.

“It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate,” he said, “but it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts — that out of many, we are truly one.”

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