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 Some would say his ministry is outdated.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.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Assumption of Privilege

What is it about Andy Rothschild that grants him special favor with the Durham City Council? From all appearances, dude is running things down at city hall like he’s the mayor. There’s nothing wrong with being a concerned citizen. The problem when it comes to Rothschild, owner of Scientific Properties, is in how his company has been granted unusual consideration that leaves one wondering if he has been bolted to this position due to a special relationship with a member of the city staff.

My eyebrows were first raised when Rothschild was awarded a $14,000 per month contract to rent space to the city. The departments of Economic & Workplace Development and Equal Opportunity and Equity are renting space at Rotschild’s Venable building on Pettigrew Street.

Victoria Peterson, a community activist who is making yet another bid for public office, attacked the city and Rothschild in February for entering into an agreement that was a conflict of interest. Rothschild serves as the chairman of the city’s Workforce Development Board. Peterson was correct to raise question regarding full disclosure. The public has the right to know if a deal was made that came about due to the dealings of the chairman of the board.

The good news for Rothschild is people have a hard time taking Peterson seriously. Yes, she’s the same woman who was kicked out of the Mike Nifong ethics hearing. Yes, she’s the same black woman who made the flip/flop from being a staunch Jessie Helms supporter to a member of the Democratic Party. Her argument fell of deaf ears not because she was wrong, but because she lacked the credibility needed to stir a concern around the issues.

Rothschild’s special favor has been proven again. This week, he raised concerns over an incentives proposal for Greenfire Development’s $284 million downtown project. The city decided to hold off plans to vote on the package until March 17. Rothschild met with Michael Lemanski, one of Greenfire’s lead partners, to discuss his concerns.

The fact that the city was made aware of Rothschild’s concerns leaves me with serious questions related to his working relationship with the city. It seems odd that a developer would bring concerns involving an incentives package to the attention of the city staff. Those concerns could have been addressed in private. There was no need to make them part of the public dialogue. In doing so, Rothschild has positioned himself as the watch dog for downtown business development, and, by empowering him to do so, the city has granted him special favor that should not be a part of discussions involving the deals made between the city and a competing company.

I have been a supporter of Rothschild’s work. I spoke before the city council in favor of his plan to revive Heritage Square. I still believe in that project. This despite my growing concern about Rothschild’s disconnection from the historical significance of the Hayti community. Scientific Properties is coming into a once vital African American business district. What will emerge will trigger economic development for Hayti and other surrounding communities.

This is great thing for the city of Durham. The problem is Rothschild has failed to convince me that he gets it. He needs to do better in hiring a staff that understands how delicate a move this is for those who still cling to those old days. The past should never limit or quest to move forward; however, it is hard to trust when too few of those on your staff don’t look like the people you ask to trust you.

Rothschild must have special privilege with the city. Otherwise, how can you explain how easy it has been for him to come this far while discounting the obvious-you can’t assume a position of privilege; you have to earn your right to sit at the table. Sooner or later, those favors will come back to bite you.