Where Wright May Be Right

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.

  • Steve

    I don’t think you even need to do research to know that white people think of their “culture” as just normative and not “white”… I mean that could be like an entire topic in it of itself.

    I am dissapointed about all that’s going on, mostly because I am afraid this is really going to divide and ruin this entire candidacy.

    I think Wright was being selfish in trying to clear his name at the most pivotal time in the entire primary process. So I don’t really have alot of sympathy for him. He’ll make more money than he’s ever made before on books and appearances…

    And the expense is that our opportunity to have a presidential candidate that bridges together many of the divisive aspects of our country is getting close to being lost…

    and the only time there has been a candidate whose candidacy I’ve ever geniunely cared about so I echo your sentiment.

  • aisha

    Wright can’t divide anyone….we weren’t together to begin with. From a tatical standpoint this might not have been the right time. However, folks in North Carolina continued to bring him into the conversation and it’s hard to stand by and have your named ruined for the sake of the “greater good” aka Obama’s campaign. It’s not like Wright was the one who put himself back in the news. North Carolinians did that for him.

  • quadmoniker

    That’s a good point and one I meant to make: those who REALLY care about the Wright issue probably weren’t going to vote for Obama anyway. Those who were aren’t going to be dissuaded.

    But I did read something on Slate, which now, of course, I can’t find, that said Clinton was picking up some younger Democrats in North Carolina, mainly those who would have been in the Obama fold. And while I agree that Wright didn’t cause the issue to resurface on his lonesome, he certainly didn’t help. I don’t think going to ‘the media,’ which, these days, trades in soundbites and just wants to play ‘gotcha!’ is any way to clear your name. Let history and the facts – that he served in the military for 6 years – settle it. All he’s doing is mucking things up for Obama.

  • universeexpanding

    Aisha is right that people were already divided, but the whole affair polarizes people even further not to mention adding to all the tension and negativity that have attended the primaries.
    I’m not American but it’s terribly frustrating to watch. Caribbean politics is all about mudslinging so we know how that part of it works at least. We all have seen parties with very vocal supporters who are loose cannons. Despite their loyalty you can’t predict what they are going to say, and as a result you have to cut your association with them because their zeal does more harm then good. The majority of us in my island are Obama supporters. We would love to see a black man in office. Thing is he has to get there *first*. Rev. Wright should remember that and sit his ass down.

  • Grump

    If Wright hadn’t spoke up NOW, then when should he have done so? He should have done it earlier, really, that way there is greater time between now and the conventions to put the whole thing in the past. But, would the media really have let it go away so easily? I doubt that as well…

  • slb

    What would’ve been wrong with him waiting until after the convention–or after the general election, for that matter? There is no right time to go on a media blitz attacking a former ally in an attempt to clear your own name—especially after that ally’s not the one who sullied in the first place (you were) and that ally’s been really magnanimous about not only defending you and legitimizing your point of view. When Obama gave that “Race Speech,” he was casting his lot with Wright and verifying a lot of claims of patented injustice and historical American failings. So who cares if “the media” was unrelenting in their attacks on Wright’s “messages?” They would’ve blown over. They *were* blowing over. He could’ve chosen to pay Obama the courtesy of allowing his campaign to run interference and damage control, continuing to keep his mouth shut during this, the most critical part of the primaries, and reassessing this situation after the nominee’s been named or, again, after the future president’s taken office.

  • Antenna Wilde

    Obama’s response was dead-accurate.: Wright was disrespectful in questioning his speech, as if Obama secretly believes everything he said, and was disrespectful to the campaign, which is the biggest blunder. What Obama didn’t say——and what we all now know——is that Wright is a narcissistic grand-stander who thinks of himself more than the movement.
    Here’s Wright if you want to do the research: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremiah_Wright

    Nonetheless, I think Wright allowed himself to get played by the media.

    For Bourgie: You say, “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.”

    I wholeheartedly disagree. In fact, Black culture is QUITE apparent in tv, movies, etc. and has been for some time, like, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, Fat Albert, Good Times. There’s plenty of famous black actors, athletes and politicians. Condoleezza Rice is THIRD in line for the Presidency! As far as “representation, blacks make up 12.2% of the population, should we expect them to have 50% of the tv shows?

    And whites are not “oppressing” that culture; they’re exploiting it. So are blacks. Look at what Robert Johnson, founder of BET and current billionaire has to say about it: http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2006-04-12-bet-robert-johnson_x.htm

    He’s in it for the $ also.

    But this may be more about religion than race, ironically. Wright supports Islam, as does Farrakan, whom he applauds. Obama has to get as far away from that as possible. I’m surprised he hasn’t mentioned Jesus Christ in any passing comments/speeches, as it would help him with the people McCain’s getting at the moment.

    Also, Wright’s comments about the U.S. being state sponsors of terror is correct———but he shouldn’t have SAID so——unless he doesn’t want to see Obama get elected? But no, I think it goes back to ego and lack of forsight. As he himself admits: He says what he has to as a pastor, Obama says what he has to as a politician. He should have left the politicking to Obama. We’d ALL be better off!

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  • AW: Condi’s actually fifth in line for the presidency.

    But i think what QM was getting at was that media imagery reifies the idea of white normalcy and the aberration of people of color.