Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S.

By H. Samy Alim; Geneva Smitherman | Go to book overview

3
Makin a Way Outta No Way
The “Race Speech” and
Obama’s Rhetorical Remix

When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds
of despair, and when our nights become darker than a
thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a
creative force in this universe, working to pull down
the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to
make a way outta no way
and transform dark days into
bright tomorrows. Let us realize that the arc of the moral
universe is long but bends toward justice.1

—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1967 [Italics ours]

Reverend Wright and other African Americans of
his generation…came of age in the late fifties and
early sixties, a time when segregation was still the
law of the land and opportunity was systematically
constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many
failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how
many men and women overcame the odds, how
many were able to make a way out of no way for
those like me who would come after them.2

—Barack Obama, 2008 [Italics ours]

At a crucial historical moment in the 2008 presidential campaign, then-senator Barack Obama was forced to directly confront America’s most treacherous social, cultural, and political minefield—race. While Obama had been relatively silent on the issue of race, there came a point in the campaign when he had no other choice but to address the nation. During the months of heated primary debates with his then-opponent Hillary Clinton, a series of controversial sermon sound bites from Reverend Dr. Jeremiah Wright emerged and were looped 24-7 across all media outlets. Reverend Wright had been Obama’s pastor for some 20 years, performed Obama’s marriage ceremony to Michelle, baptized Obama’s two children, and was currently

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