Well, it’s been five days and the reviews are in on Barack Obama’s Reverend Jeremiah Wright repudiation address (I was hoping for a defiant, race-baiting debacle so it could enter Presididential lore as “The Crackers Speech”). Many were similar to that of Andrew Sullivan of the UK’s TimesOnline.com: “Shockingly brave…the most honest speech about race in America that any leading politician has given in my lifetime. It was also, I think, an authentically Christian speech, inexplicable without Christian theology.”
In part of his 4,900-word speech, Obama said of Wright and his “deplorable” remarks, “As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children…I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”
I don’t care on which side of the tent you sit down with your popcorn, that’s some pretty honest stuff. That’s not Walter Mondale/”I’m going to raise your taxes” honest–that’s stupid, cut-your-own-throat honest. This was reasoned, from-the-heart honest–and civil. The American racial discourse is usually dumb reaction followed by punitive action followed by overreaction. Michael Richards loses his marbles in a nightclub, his career or what was left of it is over, and in the post-game, there’s at least a small chorus that stands up and says that this is what’s wrong with the white race (Don’t lump him in with me; I was always more of a George fan).
Al Campanis went off his meds on Nightline and told Ted Koppel that, among other things, blacks “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager,” and, my favorite, that blacks can’t be champion swimmers “because they don’t have the buoyancy.” His career is over and, again, a small chorus said this is what’s wrong with the white race, but I think most understood that this was what was wrong with certain old and very tired members of the white race, who will be dead soon anyway.
Clarence Thomas complained of the Anita Hill hearings being “a high-tech lynching of an uppity black man”, and he was appointed as the second-most right-wing justice on the United States Supreme Court and went on to establish a voting record against black voting rights, black jury representation, and black employment opportunities. Wait. What?
In any case, the pattern is always the same: Someone says or does something stupid, it’s “j’accuse!”, and everyone spends the post-mortem yelling at one another. Not that this is proving to be any different, but Obama has at least inserted an interregnum of sanity and given the people the opportunity to think about where we stand racially in America and inside our own brains. Again, not that that many will take that opportunity, but conflating Wright’s comments with those of his own grandmother struck a tone that more than a few people can relate to. Keith Olbermann had a story of an uncle who gave a thumbs-up when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and all week long similar stories followed.
That I understand. I know of at least one of my family members who was once a John Tesh fan. I find that deplorable, but that doesn’t mean I love her any less. I can no more disown her than I can disown the white community who gave voice to Debby Boone and Helen Reddy.
The reaction on the right to Obama’s speech was curious, but not surprising. Brit Hume: “Clever.” Newt Gingrich: “Disingenuous.” Rush Limbaugh: “Flowery.” Those were the not surprising parts. The curious part is if we are to take Bill O’Reilly’s comment as gospel (I know, but bear with me a moment) that “No U.S. Senator should lend his stature to this kind of hate.” Unless of course you are the senior Senator from Arizona. There’s been nary a peep on the right this week that John McCain has sought and embraced the endorsements of superevangelist John Hagee, who called the Catholic Church “The Great Whore”, that the Quran teaches that Muslims have a mandate to kill Christians and Jews, and blamed Hurrican Katrina on his contention that a particularly deviant gay pride parade was scheduled that upcoming Monday.
As long as we’re discussing racial sensitivity, there was an item some years ago about a fundraising “Slave Sale” he held at his 16,000-member Cornerstone church, where a church bulletin item announced, “Slavery in America is returning to Cornerstone…Make plans to come and go home with a slave.”
Of course, that isn’t entirely fair to take him to task for that. It’s my understanding that no collars or manacles were involved, and no one’s teeth were inspected.
McCain also welcomed his new spiritual adviser last week, televangelist Rod Parsley. Parsley believes that “America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion [Islam] destroyed.” He believes that the Supreme Court striking down Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 amounted to “the Supreme Court legalizing the perverted act of sodomy.” In a position that hews eerily close to Reverend Wright’s contention that there is an active conspiracy to exterminate the black race, he claims that “African Americans have become the preferred prey of the abortion industry,” and that by dispensing birth control that Planned Parenthood is responsible for the genocide of 1,500 black babies a day.
So Reverend Wright was at least correct then when he said there was an active conspiracy afoot aimed at exterminating the black race? They’ve clearly got more in common than they think. Maybe they should have coffee sometime.
Whether the media just prefers not to take their eye off the Obama-Clinton fight and will take McCain to task later in the season for spooning with The Amazing Racists remains to be seen. I hope so. I really want to know more about the science behind how gay people cause hurricanes–like, is there a formula of number of unnatural acts per 1,000 residents? I know Pastor Hagee has it figured out, but I can’t find it on Google, and I’m sure Senator McCain will surely explain it in greater depth this fall.