Obama tries to get above racial divide
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama took the racial bull by the horns in a major speech about racism, defending yet criticising his black minister for incendiary racist remarks and urging the country to get beyond racial divisions in order to tackle the country's major problems.
Obama Tuesday spent 45 minutes speaking in the historic city of Philadelphia, where the nation's founders wrote the preamble to the US constitution in 1787, which begins, "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union..."
"The document they produced remains unfinished, stained by this nation's sin of slavery," Obama said, adding that his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination was about trying to create a more perfect union.
Obama, 46, is running neck and neck with fellow Senator Hillary Clinton, 60, for the Democratic presidential nomination in a spirited and closely fought race.
Obama gave the speech after a week of turmoil over anti-white remarks made by his spiritual advisor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr, from the pulpit in Chicago.
Video clips of Wright's sermons have been playing every day on television networks, and conservative network Fox News has been playing them often on the hour.
"We have heard Reverend Wright use incendiary comments ... to denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of this nation and to rightly offend both black and white," Obama said. "I have already condemned the statements that have caused such controversy ... and pain."
But Obama refused to disown the role Wright has played in his life, introducing him "to my Christian faith" and preaching the message of lifting up the poor and serving the sick.
"As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me," Obama said. "He strengthened my faith, officiated at my wedding, baptised my children," Obama said. "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community ... or my white grandmother ... who has uttered racial stereotypes that made me cringe."
"These people are part of America, this country that I love," Obama said.
In his speech, Obama used the controversy to appeal to the nation that race was an issue the nation could no longer ignore. To not talk about it would be making the same mistake as "Wright to amplify the negative to the point it distorts reality".
Obama talked about the continuing anger felt not only by blacks but also by white Americans who "don't feel they have been advantaged because of race" and who see their jobs being sent overseas, and feel blacks might be given the advantage in job applications because of affirmative action.
"This is a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years," once which was exploited by the conservative alliance that brought Ronald Reagan to the White House in the 1980s, Obama said.
But he also appealed to the black community to "move beyond some of our racial wounds" by refusing to embrace the injustices of the past and refusing to insist on seeing themselves only as victims of past racism.
He said Wright's mistake was to ignore the fact that racial progress in the US had "made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest official in the land".
Wright was still "irrevocably bound to the tragic past".
Obama also appealed to the country to ignore attempts to "pounce on a Hillary supporter" like Geraldine Ferraro last week, who was charged by his own supporters with playing the race card after she remarked that Obama had benefited from being black in his race for the presidency.