Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On watching Sen. Obama's Tuesday speech

I'm home for spring break this week, not because it is Easter Week or because I'm a teacher with a gap in the schedule. I took the week off so I can spend it with my son who's visiting from Tucson. My wife is off, too.

So I have time to watch Barack Obama's speech this morning on MSNBC. The theme could be boiled down to "Race in America," but it was more than that. Sen. Obama revisited both America's history and the history of its racism. On the latter issue, he invoked a quote by William Faulkner: "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." I believe that Faulkner was speaking specifically about the South. I'll look it up later to make sure. But that would make sense, because he was from Mississippi and all his writing was consumed with the South's tortured soul. But all that stuff isn't past. Not in the white community. Not in the black community. Not in any community.

But what Sen. Obama asks us to do is not to dwell on the past but find ways to change the present. He said that the mistake made by Rev. Wright, his former pastor, was to think that "we are bound to a tragic past." Added Obama: "But we can change." America has been able to do that during most times of crisis and will continue to do so.

And that's what we need to focus on. We're in trouble here, people, and if we keep fighting about the past, we'll keep repeating it.

Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. Some Irish-Americans celebrate by wearing green and drinking until they puke. They curse the Brits and sing sappy old songs. They think that this has something to do with being Irish, Meanwhile, in Ireland, the Irish have moved on, becoming an economic powerhouse. The Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland are making nice, although they're not quite best pals. Bobby Sands is not forgotten but hunger strikes have given way to peace talks. New Irish writers and poets are building on the legacies of Yeats and Joyce and Synge and Swift. The members of U2 aren't exactly youngsters anymore and they still include "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in their repertoire, but their Christian message of healing and hope has more to do with Barack Obama that with the blarney-laden crap you hear from most Irish-Americans on March 17. And in Ireland it may also be true that the past isn't dead and buried and it's not even past. Despite that, the Irish are moving ahead. I'm not sure we Irish-Americans can say the same.

I'm an Irish-American who lives in red-state Wyoming and grew up in the segregated South during the Vietnam War. The past isn't past but I'm one Baby Boomer who's looking ahead. I continue to support Barack Obama for president.

HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE (3/21): On St. Patrick's Day, NPR broadcast a segment about how the U.S. Civil Rights struggle influenced Catholic activists during the troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s. Here's an excerpt:

We also spoke with Brian Dooley, author of Black and Green: The Fight for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland and Black America. Here's some of what he said: "As early as 1963, civil rights protesters in Northern Ireland had compared themselves to blacks in Alabama and Little Rock, and identified themselves as the 'Negroes' of Northern Ireland. They sang 'We Shall Overcome' at their marches and in early 1969 deliberately modeled a protest march on the lines of the Selma-Montgomery march. Oddly, perhaps, the Northern Ireland protesters identified more with black American protests than the myriad of protests in Europe that year -- in Paris, Prague, Berlin, Rome and London. They saw their struggle as closer to that of African Americans in the U.S."

For the rest, go to: http://www.npr.org/blogs/newsandviews/2008/03/n_ireland_and_the_us_shared_ci.html

1 comment:

kainah said...

lovely post, Mike.