Dispiriting Cont.

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From Barack Obama's speech yesterday:

For if we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that there are good and decent people in this country who don't yet fully embrace their gay brothers and sisters -- not yet.

That's why I've spoken about these issues not just in front of you, but in front of unlikely audiences -- in front of African American church members, in front of other audiences that have traditionally resisted these changes.

I think anyone who regularly reads this blog knows how much I admire Barack Obama as a president and a politician. I am not an unbias party. I also find a lot of the public criticism that he's gotten on race to be baffling and empty. And I have said as much. Moreover, it needs to be said that I believe homophobia is ultimately bad for black people, and wreaks havoc on all of us, regardless of our sexual orientation. More than that, I believe that an informed reading of the history of the Civil Rights movement reveals instructive moral parallels. As my friend Jelani Cobb has said gay marriage is the civil rights issue of our time.

With that in mind, it's worth remembering where Barack Obama is on the civil rights issue of our time:

I'm a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.

It's very interesting to see a man who opposes gays should not have the right to wed, claim credit for talking to "African American church members" about homophobia. It's even more interesting to see a man who lives in a majority black city, poised to go further than he, himself, ever would, claim that credit. I've heard it said, many times, on this board that Obama is actually pro-gay marriage, but that he can't come out all the way. If that's the case, then we must conclude that he is lying about his stance. Moreover, he's invoking his relationship with religion, and his God, in that lie. Perhaps worse, he isn't being fully honest with the very audiences he wants credit for addressing--the very audiences, that by his logic, would most benefit from that honesty.

I have long been one who believes, as Jelani says, Obama is the president of the United States, not the host of Soul Train. Again, in that vein it's amazing to see him touting his willingness to take his message of almost-tolerance to 13 percent of the population. As president of the United States, not the host of Soul Train, one wonders what message he has for the other 87 percent of the population. As a president of the entire country, one hopes to see him in the middle of Kentucky, in the hills of West Virginia, deep in South Dakota in search of other "unlikely audiences" who "have traditionally resisted changes." I am sure they would welcome him.

I don't just accept that Obama has to represent more than black people--I think it's essential. Likewise, I don't just accept that Obama has to lead more than black people to a deeper more humane understanding--I think it's essential. I am unimpressed by a black man, with the political gifts of Barack Obama, who is supported by 90 percent of the black community, who believes gay marriage to be against the tenents of Christianity, going to a black church and saying the following:

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.

I appreciate it. But I'm not impressed. Take it to rest of the country. Take it to that vast 87 percent that you now rep for, and tell them the good news. That would be a profile in courage.

UPDATE: The following sentence was added after this went live. Didn't realize I had published without it:

Moreover, he's invoking his relationship with religion, and his God, in that lie. Perhaps worse, he isn't being fully honest with the very audiences he wants credit for addressing--the very audiences, that by his logic, would most benefit from that honesty.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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