Friday, May 2, 2008

Obama versus Wright

I’m so pissed by the drama involving Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama. I keep pondering why people are so consumed with concerns related to Wright’s sermons while he isn’t running for the oval office. I thought it would all go away after that amazing speech Obama made about standing in between the worlds of black and white America. I thought it would be enough to put to rest the problem that was never a problem.

What disturbs me most is how two prominent black men have been forced to address the nature of their relationship. The media has evaluated each word, blasting Wright for calling Obama a politician while assuming he meant something bad when he made that statement. I didn’t read into Wright’s words what many have. Maybe it’s because I listened to his comment within the context of a question-‘Has Obama ever used your words?”

Oh no, he does what he does and I do what I do. I’m a preacher and he’s a politician. In other words, I’m not his speech writer. My impact on what he does isn’t as prominent as you assume. It could be that my admiration for Wright is tainting my perception, or it could be that people are hearing something coming from Wright based on an opinion they have developed after hearing tidbits of his sermons?

I’ve always believed it is dangerous to assume a person’s intent when they speak. Can we all say, with 100 percent certainty, that Wright was blasting Obama for playing politics, or is it possible that he was attempting to speak to the absurdity that comes with connecting him with Obama beyond what happens during a Sunday morning worship service? He does what he does, and I do what I do. What’s wrong with that?

Of course we can read into those words-politician-something negative if we base that opinion on the notion that he views the title as a negative thing. If that is true, and I’m saddened that we would think it is, we would have to blast a person whenever politician is used to define the work a person does.

The angst I’m feeling goes even deeper than all of this. It all reminds me of the resentment I feel when I see two black men step into a boxing ring. They beat each other to a pulp while a few white promoters sit at ringside counting their money. Two men who have shared stories and faith are forced to address one another. They are forced to define and redefine the nature of their relationship while white America stands on the sideline benefiting from the cruelty of it all.

Many of my readers will blame Wright for all of this. He should have shut his mouth and waited until the end of the election to speak. There may be some truth to all of that, but what has happened in this story is sad, and is, at the very core, a reminder of how difficult it is for a black man to prove to white America that he isn’t too black to serve in leadership.

Like it or not, this is an attack on Black faith. The nation has gotten a glimpse at what happens on Sunday morning in pulpits across the country, and they have heard from one of the giants of the Black Church. He has said what others have stated. His attack on America is no different that the one I made after 911. I too said America is to blame for its policies and hatred toward the Muslim world. Attack me for my prophetic witness. Call me unpatriotic. Do that if you wish, but, in doing so, keep in mind the audience I preach to every Sunday, and the historical pain that has many grappling to understand why we fight this war.

Understand that when Wright makes comments about AIDS there is a precedent for his argument. People are still troubled by the Tuskegee experiment. It’s not far fetched to think that it could all happen again. Wright isn’t a conspiracy theorist out of control. He is speaking out on matters that reflect the opinions of many Black people. The problem with this discussion is related to the lack of real conversation between people about what they feel and think.

Two black men are forced to contend with the nature of their relationship. Obama has to distance himself from a man who has inspired him, nurtured his faith and supported his campaign. The problem with Wright is he is too black for America, and Obama has to prove that he isn’t so black that he can’t lead America.

It saddens me that Obama has to reject that black side. It’s too bad that America can’t embrace the power and purpose of black faith. It is the Black Church that teaches love in the face of hatred. There’s nothing wrong with Black faith, and there is nothing wrong with Jeremiah Wright.

It pains me that Obama has to say there is something wrong with Wright to prove to all those critics that he isn’t like that man. He has to stand in the ring, box with him-destroying the credibility of a man who has touched so many lives, including mine, over the years.

It’s a sad day for the Black Church. It’s a sad day for black men. In 2008 we continue to be forced to beat each other down in order to prove we are not like that guy over there. Martin Luther King, Jr. had to do the same with Malcolm X.

Tell me he is bad and I will let you play. The worst part is most people refuse to accept the deep-seeded racism that stirs this pot.


  1. Rev: You are the first person in print or verbally mention the Tuskeegee syphillis experiment. I can tell you the fear surrounding that is very real. When I worked in AIDS ministry, I heard firsthand how many HIV positive black men and women refused free treatment at AIDS research clinics (such as the wonderful DART clinic at Duke) solely because they fear its another Tuskeegee. We can cluck our tounges and say "well I wouldn't..." but the precedent for predatory human experimentation on African-Americans is real and documented - not an Internet urban myth.

  2. I both agree and disagree with Carl's points.

    A N&O staff writer perhaps phrased it best as noting the break between Obama and Wright represents a conflict between a "new vision of race in America contrasted with a civil-rights disaffection toward the government" and past racism. The former recognizes many areas of progress in the last 60 years, while the latter dwells on pain in the past and the realization that we still struggle with racism in our midst.

    I don't think Obama is ignorant of his ethnic past, especially with Wright in the pulpit every Sunday for 20 years. Obama seems to be saying, however, that if we can't recognize that considerable progress has been made, we remain mired in the victim status that clouds our current outlook and forward vision. He says, "Yes, much of that is true, BUT ... where do we go from here? How do we take the next step, which, necessarily, will include all of us and affect all of us?"

    Wright is intelligent and articulate in stating, as Carl noted, the majority opinion espoused in black churches for many years. He is correct in most of what he says and can effectively argue his opinions in many other areas. And, he wasn't the first or last person to use hyperbole to make his points, then have these extreme comments taken out of context and pseudoanalyzed. But - and this is a big BUT - some of his views are not supported by fact and when he repeats them for the press, he risks sounding like a buffoon (which he isn't) and people use those verbal gaffes to attack Wright's credibility. As well as anyone associated with him. He ends up handing his enemies ammunition to shoot with, diluting his message.

    ** Black brains hardwired to "learn differently"? Why does he provide fodder for every racist by inferring that black brains are different from others?
    ** The government supplies drugs to blacks to either destroy or weaken them? This sounds like the old conspiracy theory that the CIA was distributing cocaine and heroin in black communities. And every government employee, black and white, kept their mouths shut about it.
    ** The U.S. government made up the AIDS virus to kill blacks? I fully understand his (and Krista Summit's) recollection of the infamous Tuskegee experiments, and I understand it's that past reality that makes Wright's statements seem possible, but they are not plausible today. It is based on the concept that the thousands working on AIDS today are all in cahoots with each other in this massive conspiracy. And that none of them are black. To repeat Wright's beliefs in this area is to say that predatory human experimentation on African-Americans is ongoing at the Tuskegee level. And, as Krista has noted, it keeps some blacks from receiving proper care.

    Of course, many white preachers of national note have made their own fact free statements on various matters in the past, including racial and homophobic slurs. These statements also pander to fear and conspiracy in order to make some point (usually to make money or gain power).

    I don't think for an instant that Obama has all the same views as Wright, nor should we automatically make this type of connection. But, we are in a political campaign where every little nano-particle of negativity is used by Obama's opponent to pander to the fear of some in the white community in order to win votes that could be decisive. And, unfortunately, the sound-bite impaired press plays right into these hands.

    Carl is right in stating that the controversy over Wright is a glimpse into the black church and a reminder of the African-American anger, perhaps rage, toward injustice. It no doubt makes whites uncomfortable, but not all are uncomfortable for the same reasons. And not all were ignorant of this anger. It will require confronting the past to coordinate the future.

    Kameron Carter at Duke notes that "younger blacks are not rejecting the preacher-prophet tradition, they're trying to live it more deeply by calling to its ethos of reconciliation." Obama has downplayed race to aspire to what he has called "black, but more than black." I don't agree with Carl when he writes that this is a black man trying to prove he isn't too black to serve in leadership. I think it's a man who thinks we all have a future as well as a past.

    Yes, Wright is and has been correct in may of his statements. But he has to acknowledge the current politic and choose which is more important to him and black America. Does he want Obama president or is it more important to immediately shout that he is right on everything? If the latter, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson welcome him to the spoilers club.