This week I heard Barak Obama’s speech on race and racial tensions in the US and as speeches go it is one of the best I have heard in my lifetime. Right from the first time I have heard him speak I liked Obama very much. He appeared intelligent, genuine and honest. How many politicians can fit this description? But I have always wondered about him. He may have great charisma, but can he make a good president? He has never been tested. Does he have the experience and the skill required to take hard decisions. I had no doubts about Hillary. You knew what you were getting and with Bill Clinton by her side she would be a safe bet for the world.
However this speech on race removed all my doubts. It was a very challenging situation. His spiritual mentor was being caricatured as unpatriotic and racist. A lesser man would have disowned him and distanced himself. Obama took on the challenge with grace, courage and honesty. While he denounced the statements made by his pastor he did not disown him. He explained the reason behind the anger many black people carry. He also explained why white working class people are angry; because they are required to pay the price for the discrimination they did not perpetuate. He spoke about his white grandmother and the racial prejudices she carried.
It was one of the most politically ‘incorrect’ speeches I have heard. Coming from a politician at such a crucial juncture in his career, was an act of tremendous courage. It made me think that all his speeches about rising above individual differences, about unity of spirit and intelligence of electorate were not mere words. When a challenge presented itself, he lived up to all the promise his words held. I think it is a very rare quality. More then anything we need politicians who have their heart in the right place.
Incidentally, this speech also gave me some insights into politics in India. We have had similar issues. The caste system which resulted in marginalizing large sections of the population. Independent India tried to correct these through reservations for backward castes. This is has led to so much resentment among upper caste sections of India. How does Indian politics work – each party panders to one section of the vote bank. It feeds on the hate and insecurities of the people. Elections are won and lost based on castes and not on the ability of the elected representative. I wish we had politicians like Obama in our country, who can understand both sides of the problem and have the courage to take the middle ground.
You can read the full transcript of the speech and watch the video here