Over the weekend, I did an assessment of Barack Obama’s “Grace” speech, his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney and tribute to the eight other members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church family who were murdered in Charleston. I am warming up for another minute-by-minute post about the speech, which is all the more interesting as I watch it for a second time.
For now, a range of pro and con reaction—about the speech, about the president, about my interpretation of the speech—from readers around the country.
The Importance of “Signifying”
From a professor of rhetoric who (as it is relevant to point out) is himself black:
[The most important part of] your analysis of the speech … is your recommendation that we view rather than just read the transcript or passages from the entire eulogy.
As did you, I found the president’s play on the word, idea, and experience of “grace” quite deep and astonishing. What is also worth mentioning, however, is the president’s demonstrated knowledge of the antiphonal nature of Black worship, subsisted on a powerful use of “signifying” (verbal indirection) aspect of Black speech.
As such, what I thought was also going on in the president’s theme of grace—especially with regard to the part of the speech on the confederate flag—is the president was signifying on not just South Carolina but also the South as a region that was a recipient of that grace, having at one time being “a sinner,” a secessionist region welcomed back into the “love and kindness of God,” into the union, as it were, and reconstructed. For that reason, the president seemed to insinuate, those white southerners, particularly the sons and daughters of the confederacy, insisting on upholding the flag as symbol of ancestral pride, should remember that special national “grace.”
Maybe I’m off here, but I can bet you many in that audience knew or thought the president was signifying that, as well.
The Importance of the Song Itself
I don’t think it was any accident that he chose Amazing Grace as his theme and even sang it, as its words are those of a white English minister tormented by his past as a slave trader seeking some absolution for his blindness, and its music can be traced to African roots.
“Our President Allowed Himself to ‘Be Black.’”