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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tutu: Racism in America and Obama

Desmond Tutu: Equality of U.S. blacks an 'illusion'
By Storer H. Rowley
Tribune reporter
May 14, 2008

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu weighed in on the presidential campaign Tuesday in Chicago, praising America's ability to produce the first viable African-American presidential candidate while describing the nation as haunted by a racial divide that still offers blacks what he called only "the illusion of equality."

"You are a crazy country," Tutu, 76, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, said in an interview with the Tribune. "You're a country that has I think some of the most generous people I've ever come across in the world."

But he chided Americans for getting "very, very upset" with the pastor of Sen. Barack Obama, noting that Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. "may have said more crudely what, actually, almost every African-American would have wanted to say. I mean that is how they feel in your country, that race ... is a very, very real issue."

"And I think on the whole you keep trying to pretend it isn't," he added, noting the issue will haunt Americans until there is a way to talk honestly about race, such as holding a reconciliation forum.

Tutu, who headed South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission probing human-rights abuses under apartheid, was here to receive the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation's Lincoln Leadership Prize, presented by Oprah Winfrey.

Unlike in South Africa's apartheid era, he said, where blacks were treated as "nothing," in America, "You say to them, 'You're equal, and the sky's the limit.' And they keep bumping their heads against this thing that's stopping them from reaching out to the stars."

Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune

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