Study Guide

A More Perfect Union Quotes

By Barack Obama

  • Racism

    Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country—a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America. (40)

    We've already established how important it is to talk about race and issues of discrimination because that's the only way we will ever solve the problem. That said, we have to talk about it in the right way. Focusing on how pervasive race is, as if it can never be fixed, leaves a taste in your mouth as bad as sour milk or expired cheese. Yeah, we have a long way to go, but we will get there because we want it badly enough.

    Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. (90)

    Have you ever traveled to a foreign country where English isn't the primary language? And you know that when you try to order a meal, you either look like an idiot gesticulating to your item of choice or you sound like an idiot trying to communicate using a few unconjugated verbs?

    That's the reality for minority populations who face racism and discrimination—even when they "make it," when they beat the odds, they still feel as if there is something to prove, as if they don't really belong. Those feelings are just one of the many legacies of racism, and one of the many reasons we need to start changing things.

    We can tackle race only as spectacle—as we did in the O.J. trial—or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina—or as fodder for the nightly news. (136)

    Did you watch The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story? If you did, you would've seen a highly dramatized version of the "trial of the century," where people were literally selling T-shirts outside the courthouse with various slogans all related to race.

    Unfortunately, that part was not made-up—race became such a huge part of that trial, for better or worse, that it defined the entire country. Those white people who thought O.J. was guilty must be racist, and the Black people who thought he was innocent were heartless to not consider the suffering of the victims.

    But race shouldn't be a sideshow when it becomes convenient. It should be a civilized conversation we are constantly having because that's the only way to avoid antagonizing one another and making the damage worse.

  • Equality

    Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution—a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time. (6)

    The U.S. Constitution was formed on the very foundation of equality—that concept led to a declaration of war and a declaration of independence. We fought a king and the world's most powerful army to get our freedom so we could be equal. Then, a century later, we fought each other for the same reason. It's been proven that violence is not necessarily the answer.

    However, it's also been proven that our journey to true equality isn't finished, and it will continue to be a work in progress. There's nothing wrong with that so long as we commit to seeing it through, to working together until we really have achieved true equality.

    This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign—to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. (9)

    What made Reverend Wright's comments so terribly wrong was the implication that we're starting from scratch when it comes to fighting for equality, and that's just not true. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela—great men from all over the world have been fighting against injustice for decades, and while it hasn't been easy, they don't deserve to have their achievements forgotten because it makes for better controversy.

    In his speech, Obama reminds us that we aren't starting from the beginning because great people have made intense sacrifices to set us on the path toward a more free, more prosperous country. We just have to carry the baton now.

    But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts—that out of many, we are truly one. (19)

    We the people. We. The people. It hasn't ever been about a single person doing all the work, or a single group of people making decisions—that wasn't the plan. From the get-go, our Founding Fathers wanted to create a government where all people had the same voice, the same power to make change. Obviously, we have had to make adjustments along the way, but this perfection we're after has always been part of us. We just have to take the opportunity to find it and preserve it.

  • Power of Education

    And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation—the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election. (157)

    For some insider information on a story about the next generation, take a look at Ashley's story in "Section 10: Lines 157-184."

    It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children. (181)

    Education is huge, we know this. Our parents have been telling us all about it since we were dancing around in light-up sneakers. But in his speech, Obama warns us against falling into a trap of our own creation, as if sharing educational funds and creating jobs will make everything all better.

    It's a step in the right direction, for sure, but the lingering ideas about race and justice that have been part of our social consciousness for hundreds of years won't go away so easily. That's why education is so important. We need it to be equal and accessible for everyone, of course, but we also need it to eradicate those ideas and start creating a space to have real and meaningful conversations about racism and race relations.

  • Hope

    I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together—unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes. (10)

    It's important to understand how that moment in history is shockingly similar to this moment in history. Not much has changed over the course of Obama's presidency, and some might even argue that we've taken more steps backward than we have forward.

    But do you want to know what also hasn't changed? The things we wish for, the hopes we have, our goals, and our ideals. We want the same things as we did then, and that means it's never too late to try taking another step forward.

    That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations—those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. (89)

    Black men and women in prisons can truly believe there's nothing left for them, and history appears to support that. The message here is that without hope, we have nothing left, and if any young person feels this way, we should be doing anything and everything we can to make things better.

    What we have already achieved gives us hope—the audacity to hope—for what we can and must achieve tomorrow. (126)

    Take a look back at "Main Idea" for a little more detail on this juicy tidbit.

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