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The Speech: Race and Barack Obama's "A More Perfect Union"
"Black Like Barack" by Joan Morgan from the book The Speech: Race and Barack Obama's "A More Perfect Union"
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Joan gives an overview of the book:

After Senator Barack Obama delivered his celebrated speech, “A More Perfect Union,” on March 18, 2008, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd noted that only Barack Obama “could alchemize a nuanced 40-minute speech on race into must-see YouTube viewing for 20-year-olds.” Pundits established the speech’s historical eminence with comparisons to Abraham Lincoln’s “A House Divided” and Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream.” The future president had addressed one of the biggest issues facing his campaign—and our country—with an eloquence and honesty rarely before heard on a national stage. The Speech brings together a distinguished lineup of writers and thinkers—among them Adam Mansbach, Alice Randall, Connie Schultz, and William Julius Wilson —in a multifaceted exploration of Obama’s address. Their original essays examine every aspect of the speech—literary, political...
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After Senator Barack Obama delivered his celebrated speech, “A More Perfect Union,” on March 18, 2008, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd noted that only Barack Obama “could alchemize a nuanced 40-minute speech on race into must-see YouTube viewing for 20-year-olds.” Pundits established the speech’s historical eminence with comparisons to Abraham Lincoln’s “A House Divided” and Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream.” The future president had addressed one of the biggest issues facing his campaign—and our country—with an eloquence and honesty rarely before heard on a national stage.

The Speech brings together a distinguished lineup of writers and thinkers—among them Adam Mansbach, Alice Randall, Connie Schultz, and William Julius Wilson —in a multifaceted exploration of Obama’s address. Their original essays examine every aspect of the speech—literary, political, social, and culturaland are punctuated by Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson’s reportage on the issue of race in the now historic 2008 campaign.  The Speech memorializes and gives full due to a speech that propelled Obama toward the White House, and prompted a nation to evaluate our imperfect but hopeful union.

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Still, as a Jamaican-born, black American woman, I listened to “A More Perfect Union” with a distinctly different ear, acutely aware that the Senator’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright was incidental to the real issue at hand.  At the end of the day what was being called into question wasn’t Obama’s potential for covert racism, or even his race loyalty. It was the legitimacy of Barack’s particular brand of blackness itself: “At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough”… The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well…”

For months I’d watched America fumble around its own racial history and neurosis, struggling to define a man who is Black and undeniably American, who identifies himself as African American but is not a direct descendant of American slaves, or what is otherwise broadly referred to as African American.  As a first generation immigrant I am well aware of the proprietary tendency of native-born Americans to use Black and African-American interchangeably— as if to be black in America is necessarily to be descended from this ancestry. 

joan-morgan's picture

Everyone writer has a moment when they feel that their new baby is their proudest moment. It usually passes by the next time the baby is published. But my essay here, "Black Like Barack" explores what it means to be black, American but not African-American in the time of Barack is probably one of the most important pieces of writing I've ever done. It's the springboard for my new body of work on Caribbean American identity.

About Joan

Joan Morgan is an award-winning journalist, author and a provocative cultural critic. A pioneering hip-hop journalist, she began her professional writing career freelancing for The Village Voice. Her first article, “The Pro-Rape Culture,” explored the issues of race and...

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