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Abstract

On March 18, 2008, Barack Obama addressed the status of racial equality in America in a speech titled “A More Perfect Union.” The speech came on the heels of a media firestorm that erupted around Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s religious advisor and friend, whom media accused of harboring allegedly racist and anti-American sentiment. The association with Wright undermined Obama’s status as the post-racial candidate and threatened to derail his presidential bid. Using Kenneth Burke’s dramatistic process (the guilt-purification-redemption cycle), this article argues that Obama’s use of guilt may have contributed to his success. In the speech Obama elucidated three types of guilt concerning racial inequality: Obama’s guilt, the guilt of European Americans, and the guilt of African Americans. Although the disparate notions of guilt evoked by the speech had the potential to divide America across racial lines initially, it helped Obama preserve his candidacy and provided a foundation for America’s redemption.

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