There are some moments in history that act as turning points in the future direction a country or a people will take. Throughout history, these events have served as markers which one can pinpoint the start of a major event or change. An example of such an event is the much iconic and tauted Marie Antoinette’s ‘if there is no bread let them eat cake’ speech at the onset of the French revolution. That single statement marked the onset of the fiery retribution that signaled the beginning of the French revolution. This essay will however focus on a much more recent speech. Current US president, Hussein Barrack Obama, gave this speech titled ‘A more perfect union’ while he was still a senator for Illinois.
The speech is widely touted as the single event that contributed immensely to Obama’s victory as the democratic candidate and also his eventually election into office as the president f America. The speech focused almost exclusively on America’s race relations and the various racial incidences that have dotted America’s past. The speech was delivered in 2008 at the National Constitution centre in Philadelphia in the run up to the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination. The speech was made in response to remarks uttered by a controversial preacher who earlier on had intimated his undying support for Barrack Obama. The preacher known as reverend Jeremiah Wright had caused public uproar over his sermons which intimated that God should damn America due to its sordid racial past and its mistreatment of minorities living in the US.
Jeremiah Wright had been Obama’s pastor and even a participant in his campaign and even a critical member of the Obama campaign’s African American Religious Leadership Committee. His presence in the Obama campaigns significantly undermined the professionalism and integrity that the Obama campaigns had prided itself in and this was the basis behind the speech. Being the first African American to have a solid lead in any election, Obama sought to gain support from both the whites and minorities living in America, and at every step he sought to make it known that he was intent on representing every facet of the American society and not just the African Americans and minorities. The speech sought to place Wright’s sentiments in the correct context which they ought to be seen and far from downplaying the truth in the sentiments, Obama sought to show the larger picture in having unity of purpose being the single driving force for every American irrespective of origin.
There was an alarming sense of urgency from the American public regarding the Jeremiah Wright issue. His presence in the entire election equation was a huge blot in Obama’s strategy and the fact that he at first sidestepped the issue further raised a lot of speculation with regards to Obama’s real intentions. There had been widespread claims regarding Obama’s stand on racism and the fear was that he could institute retribution against the whites in the country. The fact that there was racial inequality was not in doubt and though several prominent African Americans had spoken strongly against it, little seemed to have changed. The American public needed to trust in Obama due to his promises to bring lasting change to the American people. The fact that he addressed the matter in an authoritative and well informed manner endeared him further to the public and made his ratings to skyrocket.
The speech begun with a quote from the preamble to the United States constitution and it begins with the statement ‘We the people in order to form a more perfect union…”. Given the context of the speech, especially as he was delivering it just adjacent to Independence Hall, the underlying message was that liberty, freedom was entrenched in the United States constitution, and therefore racial relations should aspire to reflect the spirit behind the US constitution. He recognized the existence of a ‘racial stalemate’ in the American society and urged Americans to move beyond this stalemate and focus on uplifting their livelihoods.
The speech essentially highlighted the glaring tension and mistrust that existed in American society. He begun the speech by exemplifying the tenets of equal citizenship and freedom and reiterated his quest for a ‘more just, more caring and more prosperous America”, Barrack, (2008). He highlighted his family history, stating that America’s uniqueness is in providing a chance to individuals such as him, who hail from multicultural backgrounds. He further stated that in his political history, he fully relied on white voters alongside other minorities to spur him to victory. In addressing Jeremiah Wright’s statements, he intimated that wrights statements were “not only wrong by divisive” furthermore he added that the statements “came at a time when we need unity”. The speech fully exemplified Obama’s need to bring together whites and other minorities in America to focus on their collective problems and achieve lasting solutions.
The speech was well tempered in that it did not fully condemn Wright’s statements as an individual but rather explained the context in which the statements were made. Though he expressly stated that he does not share Wright’s views, he nevertheless asked his audience and Americans at large to understand, Wright’s standpoint as being representative of American people who felt disjointed and discriminated against by the very country they call home. Obama called upon all Americans to focus on the positive aspects of being American and cease from engaging in stereotypical segregation and racial slurs as this is representation of a negative past, a past that ought to be relooked and whose lessons ought to be learnt.
- Barrack Obama (92008-03-18). “Text of Obama’s speech: A More Perfect Union”. Wall Street Journal. Archived . 2008.