For the moment, I don’t care about that speech. I’m listening to another.

Let’s back up. I’ll assume that you haven’t already heard about Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s speech on race as the poignant treatise it is.

Good speech; you should listen to it. I just don’t expect to use it in my classroom anytime soon, despite suggestions that some guy’s grandchildren will study it.

We’ll have decades to parse Obama’s campaign, character and speech on race. Let’s step back and look, if just for a moment, at what made that speech necessary.

Obama’s pastor gave a sermon within a week or so of 9/11. A six-second soundbite from it was first covered by Fox News, and it was that soundbite which prompted intraparty criticism and, ultimately, Obama’s speech.


That’s not the only sermon of his missrepresented by the news media; here’s another, if you dare. 

There’s a lesson here, somewhere, and not just about the importance of putting statements in context. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whatever you have to say about his idiom of anger and frustration, covers black and minority and foreign policy history pretty well.

13th Amendment. Dred Scott. Segregation of the military.

Even at least one accusation speaks to whole blocs of vocabulary necessary to understanding the history of civil rights and slavery. Specifically, think his equating George W. Bush to a Dixiecrat.

Unfortunately, because these sermons aren’t boiled down to a reasonable six-second soundbite, they’ll never get the press coverage they really deserve. I figure that every little bit helps.

As excellent as Obama’s speech really is, these are the excerpts I’ll use in my classrooms. They are the excerpts that show the lingering anger and frustration within the black community.

Obama, whatever his merits, just talks about it.


  1. Lindsey

    Well, I think a recent “Candorville” comic strip puts it well… “SCARY BLACK MAN SCARY SCARY BLACK MAN.” I was just thinking how sad it would be if I were running for president and my pastor said something silly and the media took off with it. But that probably wouldn’t happen because my pastor doesn’t have hundreds of years of oppression to get angry about.

    Does anyone besides the media networks even care about Obama’s pastor? I mean, my mom is a staunch, rabid conservative republicans who hate democrats and even she feels sorry for Obama right now.

  2. “But that probably wouldn’t happen because my pastor doesn’t have hundreds of years of oppression to get angry about.”

    Yeah, that. Of course he’s angry! How do you know anything about our history and question the anger of people like that? I might not appreciate his style because I don’t have hundreds of years of oppression to get angry about, but if you listen to the words and can get past “scary black man” everything he references is true.

  3. Which makes it, to my mind, that much better of a resource for the classroom.

    I’d have to be careful around all the God stuff he talks about, though. I’ll make sure to tell the class that we aren’t viewing the clips in order to be preached at — we’re just observing it.

  4. Yup. Quoting out of context 😉

    I don’t know where I saw this, originally – maybe Crooks and Liars? – but it again points to the depressingly unsubstantial content of our media.

    The Ron Paul historical mini-lesson during the early Republican debates on “blowback” and the history of the CIA is another example. I’m not a Paulie, but you don’t have to be to know that his facts were true and his analysis at least not, as the networks and Giuliani put it, “crazy.” How many Americans know about Mossadeq? About Guzman? Not many, thanks to our media.

    For some reason I’m thinking of the graphic novel (and sure, the film), V for Vendetta.

  5. Our media has historically been insubstantial, and even before the yellow journalists.

    I liked Paul well enough. He was a little bit out-there in terms of policies, but his heart was in the right place. He was also, nonetheless, easily the most honest and principled candidate from either parties.

    V for Vendetta is marvelous, if only due to its Orwellian overtones. Whatever you think of that series, Alan Moore is still the best writer in comics.

  6. Kathryn

    There’s a linguistics lesson in there, too. The difference between giving that speech to a white audience and to a black audience is that the white people will take it literally and the black people will take the meaning. We have different standards for public speaking, different standards for preaching, different Biblical texts that we call upon. As soon as we all understand that we are divided by a common language, the sooner we can start to understand one another.

  7. It isn’t that I disagree, but that linguistics lesson will be difficult to pull off in a public school, even if we’re dealing with seniors.

    The idea that black people and white people are at all different — even linguistically — has the danger of exacerbating racial tensions if any exist. I have no problem with that, though, because I, for one, have chanced worse.

    I worry more about inviting discussion of religion and comparison of preaching styles. To give perspective to students who’ve never set foot in a church, I’d have to provide some representation. I’m a bit clumsy with that kind of thing, so I’d open myself up to accusations of violating the establishment clause.

    That’s a bag of worms I’d rather keep captive.

  1. 1 First Five Minutes of Class « On the Tenure Track

    […] their journal. You’ll have a little bit of time to prepare while we watch and discuss the six-second soundbite version of the sermon. Depending on your quote, you’ll go before or after we watch the […]

  2. 2 The 166th Carnival of Education « The Elementary Educator

    […] for your students; on the other hand, Benjamin Baxter, always the contrarion, says you should focus not on Obama’s speech but on Reverend Wright’s actual statements as an even better source for class […]

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