Study Guide

A More Perfect Union Themes

By Barack Obama

  • Racism

    The impetus behind "A More Perfect Union" was to address comments made by Reverend Wright, comments that threatened to divide the country on issues of race and equality at a time when everyone needed to be working together to fix those problems.

    Racial inequality has been part of American history for hundreds of years, and, in many instances, the government has allowed it to continue. There are a million reasons not to like someone—i.e., those who put the toilet paper on the dispenser the wrong way—but judging someone based on the color of their skin isn't one of the reasons.

    Questions About Racism

    1. What examples of racism did Obama highlight in his speech?
    2. How did Reverend Wright's comments inspire hate, rather than acceptance?
    3. In his speech, Obama includes a quote from his book Dreams from My Father. Look back on that quote. How does he take a Black stereotype and turn it on its head?
    4. Do you think Obama handled this controversy the right way? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Racism is still such a big issue in the United States because we don't know how to empathize with one another in order to really listen and make changes.

    Until we eradicate racial inequalities at home, the United States will have a difficult time successfully transitioning oppressed nations from destruction to democracy.

  • Equality

    Our government was founded on the belief that all Americans deserved the opportunity to have a voice—even if you use that voice to sing off-key and practice your yodeling. We may have different upbringings, different economic strengths and weaknesses, different opportunities—but, in the eyes of the law, we're all the same. However, that never quite happened as was intended—some people don't need to practice yodeling, for example, and others sing on key all the time.

    But even beyond our literal singing voices, we still struggle for equality in all aspects of our lives. Obama's "A More Perfect Union" addressed these struggles and made it very clear that we need to find a solution because the inequalities have been impeding our success as a whole.

    Questions About Equality

    1. What are some strides we've made in recent history to overcome issues of inequality?
    2. Do you think Obama becoming president has changed the way we think about equality in our country? Why or why not?
    3. How did Obama's personal stories influence your understanding of what it means to be equal?
    4. Why did Obama choose to end his speech with the anecdote from a roundtable discussion in South Carolina?

    Chew on This

    There will never be true equality in the United States until all minority populations—including women, Blacks, immigrants, and displaced persons—have access to the same opportunities.

    The answer to the question of equality has nothing to do with equalizing everyone. Rather, it will come with an understanding of equality versus equity.

  • Power of Education

    Aristotle said, "Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all," and sometimes, we're so focused on test scores and competing with other countries, we forget that school is about so much more than a child's ability to deliver rote memorization.

    That's why it's important to remember that education is about gifting our students with the knowledge they need to make their own choices, their own decisions. And we're doing a huge disservice to all our children by denying them equal access to it. "A More Perfect Union" suggests that only with the tools supplied by a diverse and dedicated education can we hope to teach future generations to think for themselves, to choose a future without violence and without hate.

    Questions About Power of Education

    1. Why do you think we put such an emphasis on education in the United States?
    2. What was so significant about the judgment in Brown v. Board of Education? What was missing from that important case?
    3. How could we go about equalizing our education system?
    4. What about our education system will always be unequal, no matter your race or gender? How will that affect the ongoing fight for equality?

    Chew on This

    Education is the single most important way to effect change.

    One of the main causes of the Civil War was the varying social traditions in the northern and southern states. In many ways, those differences still exist today, exemplified by the fact that the southern states sometimes refer to that conflict as the War of Northern Aggression. This basic rhetorical difference, and others like it, has a big influence on persistent racial inequalities.

  • Hope

    You've heard the myth about Pandora and how she was told not to open the box. So, of course she opened it, and out popped all the evils we face today: sickness, violence, racism—you get the idea.

    However, at the very bottom of the box was hope, this innate desire to believe, no matter how dark life gets, that there's always better things ahead. Obama focused quite a bit on hope toward the end of "A More Perfect Union," and throughout his entire campaign when he continuously acknowledged our faults but also emphasized how much faith he had in our country, in our young people, to create a better future.

    Questions About Hope

    1. Many people have said hope is a dangerous thing. Do you agree? Why or why not?
    2. What about Obama's personal history gives him so much hope?
    3. Think about the last time you felt hopeful and how it influenced your point of view. Then, imagine losing that hope. How does that make you feel?
    4. How could hopelessness within minority populations contribute to racial inequalities and the way whites and Blacks interact with one another?

    Chew on This

    America is a nation shaped by tradition and patriotic ideology, the most important of which is the stubborn refusal to give up hope.

    Over the last decade, the United States has seen a rise in gun violence and other acts of hate that overwhelm nightly broadcasts and our news feeds. Sometimes, our immediate access to this kind of information makes it very difficult to hold on to hope.