It was inevitable that the issue of race would be raised during the run-up to the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. The perpetual re-broadcasting of a 30-second clip from a lengthy sermon by Barack Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was perhaps less inevitable. Still, it may prompt a long overdue conversation among Americans about race.

Why is this important to Canadians, and especially Canadian Anglicans? Our conversation about race is also overdue.

Canadians take pride in our history with the Underground Railroad, yet most of us don't know Canada's history of African and Aboriginal slaves. While slaves in Canada didn't work on plantations, the conditions and punishments for house slaves were every bit as awful as for those on plantations. And while Upper Canada was the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to pass a law freeing slaves (1793), racist attitudes and racial discrimination continued.

The flap about Rev. Wright's sermon taught me two important lessons: I, like many other white Christians, know little about the practice of prophetic preaching in black churches nor of the role of the church in the lives of African-Americans. And, that not everyone has experienced America in the same way.

For a people who were legally, socially, theologically and scientifically defined as property, a thing less than human, the church was the one place African-Americans could go without fearing their master's whip, and so it became the center and sustainer of their community. Prophetic preaching combined truth-telling about the realities that black people experienced and the liberation of Christ: a combination of Black pride and Christological hope.

White Americans need to understand that African Americans have not experienced their country in the same way as many white Americans. Instead, when they hear references to discrimination, they are prone to respond: "That again? Get over's time to move on."

That is also the response of many non-Aboriginal Canadians to references to residential schools.

The reality, for myriad reasons, is that a lot of black people aren't "over it". And a lot of Aboriginal people aren't "over" the residential school experience.

In a recent letter (March 21) to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, our Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz stated that the jailing of the leaders (from the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation)... "has caused a serious impasse...arising out of the continual imposition of the powers and values of colonizers." He went on to re-state the need for commitment to justice and self-determination for Indigenous peoples, if healing and reconciliation are to occur.

Governor General Michaëlle Jean is the great-great-granddaughter of African and Aboriginal slaves. My hope is that Barack Obama will win or lose his party's nomination or the presidency based on his skills and the positions he takes on issues, and not on his race. With God's help, the vision of our Primate, and leadership from individuals such as Michaëlle Jean and Barack Obama-and our own commitment-we can heal the divide between our peoples.