Obama and Martin King Racism Speech Analysis

Racism remains a common challenge not just in the US, but also in the rest of the world. While the US is among the countries that have diversified racial and ethnic population, the minority groups have faced discrimination since slavery period, ranging from racist comments to violent acts. The most affected groups by discrimination are African Americans, Hispanics, and people from Muslim states. While the United States of America is composed of immigrants, racism has a long history in the country to date. At times, “it is blatant and open, but often, it can be more subtle or even built into the system…” (“Racism and Discrimination in the US”). Martin Luther King’s letter titled “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” and President Barack Obama’s 2008 speech “A perfect Union” clarifies some of the ancient racial issues in the country. While the scholars gave the messages at different historical times, they are all relevant to the current racial matters in America.  King’s letter justifies the use of non-violence methods to fight racism. On the other hand, Obama’s speech calls on for political unity in the country without considering racial or ethnic affiliations. Although both activists address the racial discrimination problems and incorporate different rhetorical devices as ethos, logos, pathos, Obama’s speech is much persuasive as it uses more pathos and stories that attract audience.

King’s letter was a response to critics who claimed activists should fight racism through legal means. Some clergymen in the US argued that the street match and boycotts are illegal and create public disorder. King claims that public demonstrations are just a means the oppressed individuals use to air their voice. The fights are right because the grievances are genuine and right. The activist further argues that it is impossible to win the racial battle through the courts since it is the same oppressors who control the institutions. Nonetheless, King clarifies that demonstration and disagreement with the courts do not mean a call for violence. The strategies are applicable as the federal and state governments have failed to protect the blacks and their properties.

Obamas Speech was a response to racial remarks by his Chicago pastor, the Rev Jeremiah Wright. The reverend’s statements only proved how deeply the country was racially divided at a crucial election moment.  At that time, Obama was leading slightly over Hillary Clinton in the opinion polls (Clark). Therefore, such racial sentiments would have affected his presidential chances significantly. During the speech, the President pointed out crucial issues on Wright’s views but linked them to slavery story. The address was successful as people adopted the belief that he can solve the racial problem in the country.

Both authors employ kairos to persuade their audience. Kairos refers to the right use of time when giving information. Often, individuals become convinced in different moments based on the context of the message. For instances, charity organizations are likely to persuade people to donate to others right after a disaster. Kairos further implies the use of a given structure in passing the message. King’s speech came in the 1960’s when racial discrimination intensified in the country. Even more, at that time, some whites criticized the non-violence means that was used by demonstrates. King’s timing made it easy to appeal to the audience’s emotions as they faced opposition from the enemy. Meanwhile, Obama’s speech came at a time the nation was politically divided over racial sentiments. As a presidential aspirant coming from a minority group in the country, racism would have affected his election bid if did not respond. Therefore, Obama’s call for racial unity merged well with his presidential goal.  King’s choice of a letter was also right as it stresses and directs the message to the racists who ware against the non-violence means. Obama’s speech was also right based on the audience. The writings were to give a national picture of racism. An open expression allows the provision of more information and does not restrict the audience. Thus, both writers established kairos well based on their context and message.

The two authors further applied pathos to persuade their audience. The strategy requires the use of selective words and stories to appeal to imaginations and feelings. The activists start their message with short and appealing messages that give the purpose of the speech. King begins his letter by arguing “While confined here in the Birmingham city jail.” (1) The text makes the readers empathize and pay much attention considering that King was the leader of Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Meanwhile, Obama calls the attention of the audience “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union …” The introduction automatically links the audience to the message and makes them know the issue to be discussed is weighty and torches all blacks in the world. In the middle of the speech, the two writers incorporate metaphors and stories that appeal to feelings. For instance, Obama’s speech entirely reflects slavery and the fight for racial justice in the country. He relates slavery with his own story.  These stories not only clarify the message but create an emotional connection with the audience. Most of the statements Obama further establish illusion and parallelism. For instance, “…we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction.” The sentence tells Americans that even if they are different racially, they all have one goal to achieve.  Similarly, King’s words as “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere “gives the black demonstrators new energy (1). The activists even incorporate religion into the discussion. King argues that “a just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God” (3). Obama even links the lives of minority groups to biblical figures as David and Moses. Often, religion is a touchy topic that can make people react immediately. Even if both writers have used pathos well, Obama’s work is more appealing as it has many real life and torchy stories from all over the world compared to King’s letter.

The activists even established credibility to the audience by use of ethos. First, they are renowned activists in America with a wide following. Realistically, people readily believe their words. Evidently, they all give their brief introduction and personal testimonies. King writes, “I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference” (1). Obama gives all his personal information for Americans to judge him.  The choice of their writing also makes them credible. They both use a formal way of writing to show the seriousness of the matter at hand. Hence, both scholars similarly establish ethos.

The two works seem convincing because of their use of logos. The strategy requires the use of facts, statistics, and real-life examples. Obama cites how the slaves were discriminated and how the U.S. founders tried to solve the racial issue. For clarity, he ties the story to the country’s constitution. “The answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution”(Obama). The listeners could efficiently connect the facts to the nation’s philosophies. Obama’s speech also appears as “a meditation upon DuBois’ theory of a dual experience of race in America” (Clark). While there is no mention of the DuBois, the texture of the talk reflects the scholar’s sentiments. Meanwhile, King clarifies all the steps the demonstrators take using persuasive facts. For example, he cites Socrates that strategies that “create tension in mind “are the best (King, 3). King further relies on St. Thomas Aquinas to explain the nature of a just law. Directly quoting the two scholars works well as many people are aware of their credibility and pursuit for a better society. Even then, Obama’s work has more examples compared to King’s letter, perhaps due to the speech length.

Although both Obama and King dwell on racism problem, Obama’s work easily convinces readers due to its extensive use of pathos and logos. Unlike King, Obama explains racial discrimination broadly from a historical perspective for the audience to understand clearly. More importantly, Obama’s speech is emotionally appalling because he ties the message to his story. King’s letter is short and targets those who criticize demonstration strategies. Even so, both clergies timed their audience well and used the right structure to channel their message. They also created credibility by providing personal message and using a formal writing method.



Works Cited

Clark, Roy. “Why It Worked: A Rhetorical Analysis Of Obama’s Speech On Race”. Poynter, October, 2017, https://www.poynter.org/news/why-it-worked-rhetorical-analysis-obamas-speech-race

King Jr., Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham City Jail.” (1963).

Obama, Barack.  “A More Perfect Union” You Tube. Uploaded by BarackObamadotcom.(March, 2008)

“Racism and Discrimination in the US.” Internations.Org, https://www.internations.org/usa-expats/guide/29460-safety-security/racism-and-discrimination-in-the-us-16290. Accessed 4 Mar 2018.

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