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Obama Opens the Discussion of Race in America

Technically, we’re apolitical here at Psych Central, since mental health issues know no boundaries or political party lines. But we watched Senator Barack Obama’s speech this week on race, and were surprised to find such articulate thoughts espoused on the campaign trail. Like most Americans, we’ve become so accustomed to the mud-slinging and accusations from one political candidate to another, we don’t know what to say when someone actually speaks to us like fellow, intelligent and mature adults about a serious cultural issue like race.

We found the conversation continued today over in an op-ed in The Boston Globe entitled, Bringing race to the forefront, by Sally Lehrman. She points to the psychological and sociological research done on race that suggests Obama’s approach is likely the only one that can work:

Indeed, a long string of research by social scientists makes it clear that we can’t just make race go away. Burying this country’s history of discrimination won’t do it. Electing a mixed-heritage president won’t do it. All the good intentions in the world won’t do it. But the approach that Obama took Tuesday could very well point the way.

First, pretending race doesn’t matter doesn’t fool anyone. […] When race goes underground, our behavior often doesn’t match our intentions.


Obama took two critical steps in lifting the conversation beyond traded grievances. He challenged us to see the inequities created by legalized discrimination that still plague our public schools, property ownership, and job opportunities. He recognized the anger still simmering in the black community. But then, he asked us to acknowledge the bitterness white people feel when programs meant to mend historical injustice seem to work against their own chances or their children’s.

Our country’s heritage is one where slavery lawfully existed, even while the rest of the world started turning away from the slave trade. It took us another hundred years to acknowledge the abomination that was slavery, and nearly another hundred after that to bring black Americans up to the same social privileges enjoyed by others (notwithstanding all the laws against such racial discrimination).

We’re a long way from healing this divide, but politicians like Obama remind us — no, they challenge us — that it is possible to envision a “more perfect union” and bring America together, moving forward. But it takes each and every one of us to make that commitment to move forward together, as brothers and fellow citizens of one of the best countries on Earth.

Obama Opens the Discussion of Race in America

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Obama Opens the Discussion of Race in America. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Mar 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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