The hardships and difficulties of racial discrimination have touched individuals from varying societal angles and classes. This menace did not spare president Barrack Obama as he states in his speech ‘A Perfect Union.’ Even though Obama was the first African American individual to be elected as the president of the United States, he had his share of being discriminated against throughout his long journey to office. Obama delivered the speech on March 18, 2008, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The speech was a response to criticisms of his relationship with Reverend Wright, who had made inflammatory sediments towards the government and race relations in the United States. Moreover, Obama addressed the broader issue of race and racial discrimination in his speech. Through the use of logos, pathos, ethos, kairos, audience, and purpose, among other rhetorical techniques, Obama adequately justifies the need for unity in the country and how the union will grow stronger as one.
The use of logos is quite effective in Obama’s speech. He displays objectivity and achieves the element of logos. The senator methodically explains the problems with race within America and gives logical, reasoned resolutions to the issues. The speech starts with a solid argument based on the importance of racial unity in the country; and how it will help the union grow stronger as one. Through specific examples, Obama presents historical evidence of racial segregation against African Americans throughout history. Besides, he uses the incident between Ashley and the black man as evidence of a union that can grow stronger.
Moreover, Obama appeals by explaining his racial history in an attempt to cement the importance of racial unity. He begins with a preamble of the United States Constitution (‘We the people, to form a perfect union’) and states that even though this was the goal of the founding fathers, “the document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery (Obama, Para 2) and other racially directed injustices. Obama achieves logos by including himself in the ongoing chronicle of racial discrimination in America. He notes that ‘I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles, and cousins, of every race and every hue” (Obama, Para 6).
Even though Obama presents his passion and involvement in America’s racial relations, the exigency of the speech becomes apparent when he mentions his former pastor Jeremiah Wright. Conservatives had claimed that Wright was a black racial extremist, and since he used to attend his church, people stained his name. As a result, Obama had to hide their face and distance himself from his former pastor while providing a broader discourse on the country’s race relations. In consequence, while the criticism directed Pastor Wright and their relationship with him served as the exigency of Obama’s argument, the urgency to detach himself from the pastor and call for American racial unity served as a kairotic moment.
Having the exigency identified and a kairotic moment present, Obama appeals to pathos through a well-informed presentation of racial injustices that exist in America hence further cementing the necessity of racial unity. Obama notes how the judicial system has not solved the menace completely and how dire need for more comprehensive and exhaustive measures. In addition, Obama opines that “Segregated schools were, and are inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.’ Effectively, Obama appeals to the emotions of his audience and the entire United States population to emphasize racial unity.
Through logic and reasoning, Obama strongly appeals to ethos to suggest but not force modes of change for Black and White Americans. Precisely, the senator appeals to ethos by placing himself as a character in the racial history of the United States. Despite being of a mixed-race background engulfed by racial discrimination, the senator was a polished political icon with first-class education; therefore, he qualified to make his claim. And forcefully, he does. The senator urged blacks to embrace the burdens of the past without becoming victims of the past’ (Obama, Para ). Obama has a great experience with the challenges facing Blacks as he met prejudice while studying at Harvard. Besides, the senator experienced similar problems as he had his American Citizenship questioned. This explains why there is little buckling as the senator makes his claims. Ideally, there is no group of individuals who can claim that they know the key to racial equality. So why a senator running for president should tell us this? Through reasoning, Obama evades this predicament by offering great suggestions instead of promising legislation. Precisely, the speaker avoids overstepping his boundaries while submitting concrete claims. Obama appeals to ethos to urge and demonstrate the need for racial unity in the United States.
On March 28, 2008, Obama rose to the podium in a sensitive circumstance and under enormous pressure. This was after his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, provided the exigency for this speech by ascertaining that the American government discriminated against blacks racially. This called for a response from the aspiring president, and with great force, confidence and rhetoric, he did. The speaker placed himself in the middle of his racial rhetoric. He appealed to pathos through the enlightenment of examples of racial injustices. This was in an attempt to cement the importance of Racial Unity in America. Finally, the speaker capitalized on the sentiments mentioned above to propose but not dictate ways of change for the country.
- Obama, Senator Barack. ‘A perfect union.’ The Black Scholar 38.1 (2008): 17-23.