Monday, March 17, 2008

The Fear of Blackness

Let me state up front that I love, respect and admire Jeremiah Wright. Wright, retired pastor of the Trinity United Church in Chicago, is under attack for comments made in sermons that condemned the good ole USA. Barack Obama, a member at Trinity, has distanced himself from the man he says is like an uncle. All of this has me prepared to go to battle for the man who has come to my rescue on more than one occasion.

That disclaimer is necessary because it places my comments within a specific context. I know Wright as a man with a passion for the community he is called to serve. Some may not like to hear it, but he, and most African Americans in ministry, lives with the challenge of finding ways to reaching people stymied by a myriad of human conditions.

Wright is called to uplift black folks. His work is under attack for being too black. How sad it is that America’s black community must face criticism for doing the best it can to survive given the enormous disadvantages it faces. After years of rejecting the worth of their culture, and generations of embracing a version of the gospel that was deeply rooted in a mindset of oppression-Wright is besieged with criticism for providing his people with an alterative to that which has damaged the spiritual self-esteem of a people.

That is difficult to hear in this age of inclusion. America is uncomfortable with continuing to hear message that reminds it of the consequences of all of those years of oppression. Many would rather move on as if none of it ever happened, while pretending that race no longer maters. Wright spoke his truth regarding how public policies continue to hinder African Americans.

The pulpit, in the minds of his critics, is a place to leave us feeling good about each other. The social gospel message should be flushed, in their opinion, while being replaced with the more comfortable message of leaders like T.D. Jakes and Creflo “give me some” Dollars. The prosperity message has taken hold within pulpits across America, but Wright fails to follow suit.

Instead he wears African garments, and promotes an Afro-centric approach to ministry. Some would say his ministry is outdated. Some would argue that his retirement signals the end of a generation of ministers who embraced James Cones “Black Theology” and remember James Forman’s “Black Manifesto. Wright’s message helped soothe the tension among American Americans that grappled with the significance of Christianity. It was viewed as the religion of the slave master. It had been used to subjugate rather than inspire. The blue eyed Jesus glaring at African American parishioners from the walls of their sanctuary helped solidify the notion of inferiority.

Wright gave them reason to believe. He did what was needed in a city that is the national headquarters of the Nation of Islam. There, the people heard the argument on a consistent basis-Christianity is the “white man’s religion.” Wright responded with a powerful ministry that celebrated the universality of the Christian message. This faith is for all people. He has never discounted the right for others to celebrate Christ in a way that spoke to their particularity. He created within his work a way to make the message meaningful for those who are tired of the great contradiction called America.

Why is all of this a problem? Because America is struggling with Obama’s blackness. White America is willing to vote for a black man as long as he isn’t too black. He has to prove that he is more American than black. The radical teaching of his pastor scares America because they refuse to submit to a man willing to celebrate being black. They know he’s black, but they’re not comfortable with his being too black.

I’m offended at the assumption that we, African Americans, need to be stripped again to fit in. Isn’t it enough that the slave trade robbed us of our culture, took us from our families and deprived us of our identity? Isn’t it enough that we have been denied equal opportunity and forced to play by the rules of white America? Isn’t it enough that we have proven our commitment to this country by dying in world wars and conflicts while being denied fair treatment on our own soil?

As much as America refuses to admit it, we still have a long way to go. The race card has been entered into this race due to the insecurities America has when it comes to having a black man in charge that isn’t afraid to be black. It would be easier if he attended a white church. It would be better if his minister refused to embrace “Black Theology” and a social gospel agenda. That would be easier for America to deal with, but at what cost. Would Chicago be a better place without Wright’s voice? I think not.

Obama is who he is today because he has been under the teaching of Jeremiah Wright. America may not like to hear it, but being in love with being black isn’t a bad thing. Being a prophet willing to challenge America to do better isn’t a bad thing. It’s needed in the kingdom. It is what God has called some to do

Wright isn’t the bad guy. He’s a hero. Too bad America is too consumed with its guilt to get to the real message. I’m still waiting to overcome someday.


  1. Beautiful, Carl. Loving ourselves, and asserting that love, in any way that defines who we are distinct from the paradigms that serve the conservative white male infrastructure threatens that status quo. I also appreciate that you call the money-maker, tree-shaker preachers to task.

  2. Pastor Wright is a product of his time and his current sermons ignore the progress we have made over the last fifty years. The days of victimization are over, and those who don't recognize it will be doomed to be forever held back as they continue play the victim role rather than taking responsibility for their own life. Which, of course, Wright's black Muslim contemporaries have preached all along. Even though the basic struggle is not over, its focus has changed. Wright still preaches as if it's 1950, which is why a unifying candidate for the presidency of the United States has to acknowledge that the country is not the same as when Wright first took up preaching.

    As to JAE's comments, implying that the "conservative white male infrastructure" is trying to keep everyone on the plantation, I hope he/she realizes that the "infrastructure" is not so monolithic as some would like to believe, anymore than the canard that all blacks have a common viewpoint.

    My interpretation of what Obama was trying to say is that the past is history, our current ethnic heritage is becoming more and more of a polyglot,and we should spend more time planning for the future together. The past is not to be forgotten, but should guide us rather than forever enslave us or to be utilized as an eternal excuse for our own failings.

  3. Amen, brother!! It's 2008. We need to move on.

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