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Must learnedly read, too; in part, of intellectual rigor
|Posted Thursday, March 20, 2008|
|Groups Respond to Obama's Call for National Discussion About Race|
By LARRY ROTHER and
The speech Senator Barack Obama delivered Tuesday morning has been viewed more than 1.6 million times on YouTube and is being widely e-mailed. While commentators and politicians debated its political success Wednesday, some around the country were responding to Mr. Obamas call for a national conversation about race.
Religious groups and academic bodies, already receptive to Mr. Obamas plea for such a dialogue, seemed especially enthusiastic. Universities were moving to incorporate the issues Mr. Obama raised into classroom discussions and course work, and churches were trying to find ways to do the same in sermons and Bible studies.
The Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of a mostly white evangelical church of about 12,000 in Central Florida, described Mr. Obamas speech, in which the Democratic presidential candidate discussed his relationship with the former pastor of his home church in Chicago, as a kind of Rorschach inkblot test for the nation.
It calls out of you what is already in you, Dr. Hunter said, predicting that those desiring to address the topic would regard the speech as a spur, while those indifferent to issues of race might pay it little heed.
Dr. Hunter said the Obama speech led to a series of conversations Wednesday morning with his staff members. We want for there to be healing and reconciliation, but unless its raised in a very public manner, its tough for us in our regular conversation to raise it, he said.
The Obama speech was also a topic of discussion on Wednesday at the Washington office of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy and social welfare group. Hispanics can be white, black or of mixed race. The cynics are going to say this was an effort only to deal with the Reverend Wright issue and move on, said Janet Murguia, president of La Raza, referring to the political fallout over remarks by Mr. Obamas former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., which prompted Mr. Obama to deliver the speech.
But Ms. Murguia said she hoped that Mr. Obamas speech would help create a safe space to talk about this, where people arent threatened or pigeonholed and can talk more openly and honestly about the tensions, both overt and as an undercurrent, that exist around race and racial politics.
On the Internet and in many areas of the traditional news media, such a discussion was already taking shape. Some four million people watched Mr. Obamas speech live, and it is now the top YouTube video.
The speech has stimulated passionate discussion on scores of blogs of varying ideological tendencies, and an article about the speech in The New York Times has provoked more than 2,250 comments.
On the ABC talk show The View on Wednesday morning, the co-hosts discussed the substance of Mr. Obamas speech and its impact on the presidential campaign. Finally we can talk about race without being afraid we are offending others, one co-host, Barbara Walters, said, while Whoopi Goldberg said she felt he was talking about stuff that we tiptoe around.
Some conservative commentators, including Bill OReilly on Fox News, found positive elements in the Obama speech, which Mr. OReilly called a mixed deal. He criticized Mr. Obama for not repudiating Mr. Wrights views in stronger terms but also said that Mr. Obama was right that race remains an unresolved problem in America on both sides.
There have been other efforts to stimulate a national dialogue on race. A commission on race relations was appointed in 1997 by President Bill Clinton with the historian John Hope Franklin as chairman. But that effort produced few concrete advances, and those who said they had been inspired by Mr. Obamas speech said a different approach was needed.
This has got to be more than a speech because these things dont just happen spontaneously, said Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the Jewish magazine Tikkun and a founder of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
There needs to be some systematic, organizational commitment to making this happen, with churches, synagogues and mosques working out a plan for continued dialogue, Rabbi Lerner said.
For some, the timing of Mr. Obamas speech was awkward. Spring break at many universities foreclosed the possibility of immediate discussions in classes and informal settings, and many churches are locked in to traditional Easter services.
Nevertheless, said the Rev. Troy Benton, lead pastor at a church in Stone Mountain, Ga., near Atlanta, I dont see how you can be an African-American preacher and not try to figure out how to have something to say this Sunday, even though its Easter.
Around the country, ministers of the United Church of Christ, which is Mr. Obamas denomination, are recommending in Holy Week newsletters that their congregants read or view Mr. Obamas speech.
One message, sent from the Union Congregational Church in Montclair, N.J., said, No matter what your party affiliation or your political persuasion, the conversations about race that have been elicited by the campaign are important.
The message also cited a brief prayer, Lord, help me to remember we are all your children, and expressed the hope that we take the high road in addressing the issue.
Tufts University is on break this week, but Jennifer Bailey, a student there and the president of a group called Emerging Black Leaders, said that when she returned to classes next week, she hoped to encourage a frank discussion about race that would involve all of the many racial and ethnic groups and ideological tendencies on her campus.
Mr. Obamas speech called everybody out, and that is absolutely healthy and necessary, Ms. Bailey said.
We need to have some sort of follow-up conversation, she added, even among those groups that do not interact on a daily basis, and this speech has created a space for that. Whether individuals choose to engage is their own choice, but the opportunity is still there.
St. Edwards University in Austin, Tex., is in session this week, and at Zak Fishers speech class Wednesday, Mr. Obamas speech was discussed and analyzed, both for its content and as an example of persuasive and eloquent public discourse.
We thought it was unprecedented, said Mr. Fisher, a philosophy major. We had never heard a politician be so open to the issue of race.
Its always very important to question your own beliefs and always re-evaluate where you may stand on issues, based on new evidence.
He added: I think that was the point of his speech. Reporting was contributed by Brenda Goodman in Atlanta, Staci Semrad in Austin, Tex., Brian Stelter and Sarah Wheaton in New York and Katie Zezima in Boston.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, National, of Thuirsday, March 20, 2008.
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