Study Guide

A More Perfect Union Main Idea

By Barack Obama

  • Main Idea

    Albert Einstein is attributed as saying, "The world as we created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking" (The New Quotable Einstein, Alice Calaprice).

    Many moons ago, when those dignified men in short pants drafted the Constitution, they said it was to form a more perfect union. History has proven that perfection takes more than a signed document, and according to Obama, the only way to fix it, to really make our union perfect, is to move beyond the dark parts of the past and create a better future.

    How do we begin, you ask? Well, ol' Al was a smart dude—even he knew that it starts with changing the way we think.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union." Think about the word perfect in connection with social and political history in America. What do you think our Founding Fathers meant when they chose that word?
    2. In his speech, Obama mentioned racial discrimination in schools and in the workplace. Where else do you see issues of race in our society? Where do you see issues of race in your own community?
    3. Why do you think so we have such difficulty talking to one another about issues of race and discrimination? What are some solutions Obama offers in his speech to make it easier?
    4. In line 126, Obama states that the American people have "the audacity to hope" for a better future. What does he mean? How will our "audacity to hope" help us as we try to achieve a truly perfect union?

    Chew on This

    The New Yorker was right to say that Obama's speech helped cinch the vote, because it represented a new initiative in combatting race relations in the United States.

    Barack Obama is able to influence and inspire so many people because he understands the importance of ethos, pathos, and logos in appealing to his audience.

  • Brief Summary

    The Setup

    Barack Obama believed we could persevere and overcome hundreds of years of racial tensions and inequalities. And—bonus—remind the youngsters what quality music is really all about.

    The Text

    When Barack Obama came under fire for comments made by his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, he chose to tackle the problem with an address to the nation. He stood across the street from Independence Hall and spoke about the turbulent history of race relations in America, and how those issues are still a very real part of contemporary society.

    He acknowledged the inflammatory nature of Reverend Wright's comments, and while he didn't justify them, he did want people to understand that, from the point of view of the Black community, the history is difficult and complicated, and we can't dismiss the comments simply because they're uncomfortable to talk about. In fact, the legacy of racism is only one of many significant problems we need to address, and the best way to do that is to talk about it.

    In the United States, we pride ourselves on being super diverse and eager to talk about whatever needs talking about. But, somehow, we manage to not discuss the stuff we really need to. Obama had hope that we can change all that, and he believed it starts with our young people, a generation that has seen more change in all types of areas than any that came before. We need to meet in the middle and make it happen—and we, average Americans, have the power to do it.

      

    TL;DR

    The only way to truly put an end to racism and racial inequalities is to believe that you (yes, you, young grasshopper) have the power to make it happen.

  • Questions

    1. Why do you think we have still not resolved issues of race and discrimination in our society?
    2. In the speech, Obama talked about how politics factor in to our discussions of race. What did he say? How do we fix the problem?
    3. When we talk about racial discrimination, we tend to focus on African-American populations, simply because they have suffered quite extensively under the control of the majority. What other populations have experienced discrimination, according to Obama? Do you think there is a connection between these different groups?
    4. Imagine if we woke up tomorrow and suddenly all people received equal wages, no matter their gender, race, or sexual orientation. How would fixing one problem, and a significant one at that, impact other issues in our society?
    5. Think about the rhetoric of race in our culture today—the stereotyping, the insults. How does that contribute to lingering racial prejudices? How are we ever going to eradicate this particular problem?
    6. Speaking of rhetoric, how did Obama use his own story as a rhetorical device in his speech? Do you think it was effective? Why or why not?
    7. What were some other rhetorical devices (such as hyperbole, repetition, etc.) that Obama used to make his point? Which do you think was most effective?
    8. Throughout the speech, Obama made it clear that we will not eradicate racial prejudices in a single administration. Do you believe we will ever solve the problem of racial discrimination in our culture? What do you think we need to do to make it happen?

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