THE BLOG

It's Not About Him Now--It's About Us

05/25/2011 12:25 pm ET
  • Jim Wallis Christian leader for social change; President and Founder @Sojourners

It was an amazing day, and, we may look back to conclude it was a historic day. Before Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday, after the now infamous statements from his former pastor; the issue seemed to be a test of him. But after what may go down as one of the most significant addresses ever given about the history and future of race in America, the issue may now be a test of us. The examination of a candidate was transformed this week into an examination of a nation.


A young African American leader, more than four decades ago, told us about his dream for our nation. This week, another young leader, who is also a black man, outlined what it would take to make that dream into a "more perfect union." No political leader has ever delivered such a comprehensive and, I would say, prophetic treatment of race in America.


Every American needs to watch and listen to Barack Obama's speech about the future that the U.S. could have. And I would suggest we watch the speech with our children. After watching, we should ask ourselves, and ask our children, if this is the vision for the U.S. that we and they really want. If it is, we will have moved from an issue over controversial comments to much higher ground. After the constant replaying of the same video tapes (which seems like a metaphor of our recent racial history in America), we listened to an invitation to turn the page and move forward.


We heard the vision of a new generation today, one that understands how injustice does indeed breed frustration and anger, but that to remain stuck in past anger and present frustration can be counter-productive and even self-destructive. We heard a vision characterized not by incendiary recrimination but by the possibility of changing the realities that have kept us stuck in a racial "stalemate" and a mired in a "cynical" and "static" view of America's painful divides. This was a speech that actually posited new hope for opportunity and equality, and even the beginning of the kind of racial reconciliation and unity which few have dared to speak of since the end of the civil rights movement.


We heard a political leader who, as a black man, can also sympathize with white resentment and frustration over racial politics, and who can see both the anger of a black mentor and the racial stereotypes of a white grandmother as both part of him and part of America. The most honest and compelling speech about race in decades could open the promise of a deeper national conversation about our racial past and future than we have had for some time. Obama's speech leaves the choice to us. The issue now is whether we will choose not to allow the angry and frustrating past prevent a more fair and hopeful future; or whether we will be forever bound by that past. To the question of whether race will continue to divide and conquer our hopes for a better America, Barack Obama had his answer, "Not this time." Now we each have to answer the question for ourselves.


This is not just about a candidate now, or a campaign; it is about the country and the choices we have to make about whether we will decide to bind our progress to one another - including those beyond our own tribe. Ask your children what they would have us do.

Jim Wallis is the author of The Great Awakening, Editor-in-Chief of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.

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