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Obama addresses homophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia in MLK Ebenezer Baptist Church speech

[UPDATE: Here is the video of the speech.]

Today Barack Obama zeroed in on equal opportunity bigotry — and why everyone should strive to not only elevate the political discourse, but to be honest about the base instincts, words and deeds that divide, not unite.

He delivered this message at the house of worship where Dr. Martin Luther King preached, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. It was a pointed statement to black parishioners in the pews — people well-aware of racial politics being played in this political cycle — but who are also are part of a faith community that has long had a blind spot toward other oppressed groups. He did not hold back:

For most of this country’s history, we in the African-American community have been at the receiving end of man’s inhumanity to man.  And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays – on the job, in the schools, in our health care system, and in our criminal justice system.

And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community.

We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community.  For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.

Every day, our politics fuels and exploits this kind of division across all races and regions; across gender and party.  It is played out on television.  It is sensationalized by the media.  And last week, it even crept into the campaign for President, with charges and counter-charges that served to obscure the issues instead of illuminating the critical choices we face as a nation.  

These words are so necessary, but you can best believe he is the only candidate delivering speeches in honor of Dr. King who is willing to say it directly to members of the black community. This topic has always been a perceived as a third rail topic for the other leading Dem candidates, Clinton or Edwards   — they are, like many whites, particularly if they see themselves as allies, dread being seen as pointing out the evils and hypocrisy of such bigotry in the black faith community, even as wrong and tragic as it is on its face.

I am of two minds of this — I am grateful that Barack Obama, whose campaign has needed to atone for the triangulation strategy of courting blacks by tossing gays under the bus with the appearance of homophobic “ex-gay” advocate Donnie McClurkin at a gospel concert. He has made public statements distancing himself from this flap and reiterated support for LGBT equality (sans full marriage equality, of course, something none of the top tier have supported).

However, I am disheartened by the burden Obama has been saddled with, as a person of color, to be the sole party delivering today’s message. Addressing bigotry in any community that has suffered oppression at the hands of the majority can, and must be done, particularly in a year where we have both a woman and a black man with a credible chance of winning the nomination and making it to the White House.

That we cannot discuss the matter of homophobia or anti-Semitism in the black community bluntly is everyone’s problem. This burden and legacy of fomenting bigotry out of fear and ignorance is borne by all of us. If no one takes responsibility, we all fail. And we’re failing — look at how easily gender bias and racial overtones have surfaced over and over in the campaign so far. It’s almost reflexive to “go there,” the toxicity and effectiveness of stirring those sentiments has been part of the political process by both parties for so long that they are addicted to it.

In fact, I’m sure that the GOP is concerned about the prospect of how far it can go in attacking Obama if he is the nominee, in terms of hitting the third rail too overtly. Similarly, I have no doubt, for instance, if Clinton is the nominee, that while they may wonder how far they can go in dropping the misogyny card. However, the fact that she is a reviled Clinton only adds to her problems in the general election. If anyone can unite the GOP’s tattered and frustrated voters, she can.

I have no doubt the baiting will continue, but it doesn’t mean that we cannot keep pointing bias out when it raises its ugly head in any community. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Obama:

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds.  The division, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others – all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face – war and poverty; injustice and inequality.  We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down.  We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate.  It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.  

Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts.


Clinton, btw, picked up the endorsement of another pastor in the political black-go-to crowd today, Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church.

In endorsing Clinton, Butts read a long statement emphasizing his strong relationship with Clinton and his high regard for her experience. (“I, too, join countless Americans in a collective desire for change, and I do so with a vital recognition that change and experience are not mutually exclusive,” Butts said.)

…Earlier, in a speech from the altar, Butts seemed to echo a key Clinton criticism of her opponent, that Obama’s talent for inspirational speech was not enough to qualify him for president. (“You don’t just say, ‘save the hospital,'” Butts said. “You’ve got to work with senators and assembly persons, Chairs of Ways and Means. You’ve got to put this thing together in such a way because we live in the United States of America. One brother said that if you don’t understand that, then maybe you need to live somewhere else.”).


* SC: Black minister serves up a civil equality challenge to Obama

* Yes, this Kerry Swift Boater has no problem ‘going there’ [on Obama]

* Time to trot out the black surrogates for dirty work

* Filing the edges off of racism

* Andrew Cuomo: ‘You Can’t Shuck And Jive’ at a press conf

* Deb Price on the Obama/McClurkin debacle

* How to blow your campaign, Obama-style

* McClurkin hangs tough at Obama concert

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding