Race as Political Identity

Problematic Issues for Applied Communication Research

Authored by: Anne Maydan Nicotera , Marcia J. Clinkscales , Laura K. Dorsey , Marnel N. Niles

Routledge Handbook of Applied Communication Research

Print publication date:  June  2009
Online publication date:  July  2009

Print ISBN: 9780805849837
eBook ISBN: 9780203871645
Adobe ISBN: 9781135231798


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We sit on the cusp of an historic period in American history—the administration of our nation’s first non-White president. As it was throughout the Obama primary and presidential election campaigns, race is a continual undercurrent in U.S. society. In Philadelphia, on March 18, 2008, in the wake of furor surrounding the racial commentary and sermons of his outspoken and controversial pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama gave a stirring speech on race, entitled “A More Perfect Union.” In that speech, Obama (2008) addressed ways in which race had been an issue in his campaign, saying:

At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. 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. (p. 2)

Obama went on to say that the United States cannot afford to ignore issues of race but must face them without the simplifying stereotypes that amplify negatives and distort reality. Obama (p. 3) framed these issues as “a part of our union that we have yet to perfect,” and called on U.S. citizens to face these issues squarely rather than retreating. He traced several pressing contemporary problems to America’s history of racial injustice. In so doing, he validated both “Black anger” and “White resentment” in a way that vilified neither. He pointed out that our past inability to face these issues has distracted us from pressing issues that affect everyone, and that to heal and unify, we must understand and face our racial history. Obama explained that

the anger [of Black Americans] is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.… Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze—a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns—this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding. This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years.… But I have asserted a firm conviction—a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people—that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union. (pp. 4, 5)

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