“1)We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…”
Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy.
And yet words on a 2)parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from 3)bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and 4) obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part—through protests and struggles, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and 5)civil disobedience and always at great risk—to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of 6)Reverend Wright’s 7)sermons simply reminds us of the old 8)truism that the most 9)segregated hour of American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own 10)complicity within the African-American community, in our own condition. It prevents the African-American community from forging the 11)alliances it needs to bring about real change.
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseasor their pensions dumped after a lifetime of labor. And they feel their dreams slipping away; and in an era of 12)stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. They’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudice, 13)resentment builds over time. And just as black anger often proved 14)counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real 15)culprits of the middle class squeeze.
Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single 16)candidate—particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.
But I have asserted a firm 17)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…we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. But it also means binding our particular 18)grievances—for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs—to the larger 19)aspirations of all Americans; the white woman struggling to 20)break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means, also, taking full responsibility for our own lives—by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and 21)discrimination in their own lives, they must never 22)succumb to despair or 23)cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.
It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.
In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand—that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the 221 years since a band of patriots signed that document right here in Philadelphia, that is where perfection begins.
Thank you very much.