President Obama's March 2008 Speech on Race


In March 2008 Barack Obama spoke to the nation. His purpose of the speech was to address the public about race. From the beginning of his Speech, Obama started off with a historical quote from the Gettysburg address, "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union." During his speech one of the most important elements was to convince the public, especially the white people, that they should not fear him. Obama made it well-known that he was raised by a black father and a white mother. This was a concrete word choice used to soften the fears of the audience. He wanted to make the audience comfortable with him as if he was just like them. This was brilliant because he could win over all races of people since he was biracial himself. I think that the literary device used here is Obama’s capability in including himself as the character in the speech but not to keep himself as the main character. The ultimate theme here was to include all people as a “We”, so that every citizen of the United States is inclusive and not exclusive.

Obama mentions the words democracy, Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia convention, 1787, the colonies, the founders, the Constitution, liberty, justice, citizenship under the law, parchment, equal, free, prosperous, and the presidency ("New York Times”). This rhetoric appears to be used to soften the blow of Reverend Wright’s comments. He wants the audience to focus on the achievements of America from a historical point of view and not to focus on one man’s ills of perception.

Obama's patriotic rhetoric is intended to comfort the white voters of America. It was important for him to offset the stigma that he was attached to with Rev. Wright.

The Rev. Wright issue was Obama’s protagonist in his speech which he solidified greatly by denouncing his sermon. This was an obstacle that had to be conquered in making his speech work.

Obama’s themes all centered on race, religion, and politics of all sorts. The race issue was addressed in his own identification of who he is. The second part of the theme of Race was going back historically and talking about how slaves regained freedom in America. Obama also used quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King dreamed that one day his four children "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." The phrase by the content of their character is parallel to by the color of their skin. This devise is called Parallelism.

Obama used history again to show that we have come a long way by adding this in his speech, "This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign -- to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America” ("New York Times”). One of the issues at hand during the speech is that talking about race was a sensitive issue. Obama had the ability to include himself as a character in the storyline about race, and still take a patriotic position of reference in which his opinion was shadowed.

The end of Obama’s speech was the most pivotal part. The story uses reverse race relations to illustrate a point. It’s a story about a young white girl named Ashley. She was an Obama volunteer from South Carolina. Her family was so poor she convinced her mother that her favorite meal was a mustard and relish sandwich.

"Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. ... He simply says to everyone in the room, 'I am here because of Ashley.” ("New York Times”) This was a powerful turn of events because it happened in the south were race relations were limited among whites and blacks, this points in the opposite direction through an old black man who feels a young white woman's pain.

The whole issue of race in Obama’s speech was addressed in such a way that it touched all foundations of American history. Obama was able to talk about issues that our country is facing without putting blame on anyone or anybody. What was so significant to the literary composition of the speech is its uniqueness to identify issues without personification of one person or culture. Obama's speech offers a vision of hope and change, which are critical for all Americans who engaged in the struggle for social justice.

Works Cited
"Obama’s Speech on Race." New York Times n. pag. Web. 10Oct 2010.

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