Okay, so the AIDS thing is a little off the deep end (though I understand where the fear comes from), but I will say this: Rev. Jeremiah Wright is right about a lot of things.
Among them is that recent attacks on him are really attacks on the black church as an institution. That’s no so crazy, and I said as much to G.D. a couple of weeks ago. White Americans are partly disturbed by the YouTube replays of his sermons damning America because they don’t like to be reminded that there are places in which black people gather and to which white people are not invited (not that individuals are never invited, but you know what I mean).
I don’t just mean that the clips and the speeches played on racist fears of “minority” populations outnumbering white Americans (though obviously that’s going to happen soon, by most projections) but I’m sure that’s part of it.
Obviously, I can’t speak for all white people, and I’ll admit up front that I’ve done absolutely no research on this. But white, middle class Americans — those who live outside urban areas and among the huge swaths of mostly white faces in the middle of the country — don’t think of themselves as being a culture. They don’t think of the things they do every day as reinforcing cultural norms or the mundane places to which they go as cultural institutions. They just think that’s the way things are, and that’s the way you do things. They think of it as a natural way of being. As the natural way of being. And those places reinforce the natural way of thinking.
Acknowledging the black church as a particular institution acknowledges that there’s a culture in America about which they know very little. If they’re thoughtful to a point, they realize that this culture is not represented in mainstream television shows, books, movies, or the media as much as their own is, and that they’re among the oppressors of that culture. Then they feel indicted. If they are not so thoughtful, it reminds them that there are people in the country whom they hate.
The most difficult thing at all would be to admit that that another culture has an ethos that is as valid as your own. Groups of people have been unable to do that for centuries, and it may be a little more than audacious to hope that they would reach that kind of inter-cultural understanding now, just in time for the election of the country’s first black president. So Wright is damned by those who find him completely foreign, even though the things he says aren’t nearly as off the mark as the things white, evangelical religious leaders have said in recent years. And those people are given a voice.
I’ll admit to being a little disappointed in Obama’s outright denouncement, though I completely understand why he is doing it. I’m also disappointed in Wright. What is he doing? Is now really the time? Obama’s also right about a few things, and one of them is that Wright’s comments are divisive. Not that they’re necessarily right or wrong. They will divide people. And my biggest fear is that that’s what they’re doing, just when I was excited about a presidential candidate for the first time, ever.
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