Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pastor Wright, the "race card," and Obama

The recent flap about Pastor Jeremiah Wright is a prime example of how America’s mainstream media and political culture serve as thought police, making it almost impossible to have a debate over race and many other extremely important topics. Let us start by interrogating what the “hateful” Pastor Wright said--

The United States is responsible for innocent deaths through the “criminal justice system,” facilitating the spread of drugs, and its foreign policy—and therefore “God Damn America”

• I don’t know about the theological issues as far as “damning America,” but he pretty much nails that one out of the park.

The US gov’t helped to create the AIDS virus as a means to destroy black people

• Conspiratorial, yes, but no more conspiratorial than half the things I hear from “white” Christian Broadcasting, local Sinclair affiliates, and Fox News. And not totally off the mark—is it true or not true that the Reagan Administration did absolutely nothing during the AIDS epidemic--only acknowledging it in 1987—because according to his advisers, AIDS victims were “getting what they deserved”—is it a conspiracy if the government is consciously letting people die? And the government did deliberately infect black men with syphillis. So, close Pastor Wright.

On Louis Farrakhan—“When Minister Farrakhan speaks, Black America listens. Everybody may not agree with him, but they listen...Minister Farrakhan will be remembered as one of the 20th and 21st century giants of the African American religious experience.”

• I don’t see anything controversial in this statement other than it mentions Louis Farrakhan—which apparently isn’t allowed.

Today’s Israeli state is racist against Palestinian Arabs

• I can’t say that I disagree with him on this one. It is a complicated issue for sure, but he is not making this stuff up.

US foreign policy helped to cause 9/11

• Anyone with any knowledge of US policy in Afghanistan in the 1980s knows this is true. Can you say Pakistani ISI?

I could continue…The problem with Pastor Wright isn’t that he is “hateful” or an “extremist”—it is that he is truthful (although perhaps misinformed on the AIDS thing).

Ironically, this whole “public debate” about Pastor Wright and what Obama has to do as far as damage control simply confirms that America is not “post-race”—that nothing scares the mainstream (I won’t even say white because, God forbid I should point out a white person’s skin tone—that makes you “racist”) more than a militant black person who criticizes America for slavery, genocide, and ongoing racism in both domestic and foreign policy. The selective outrage is ridiculous--particularly over statements that are either factually accurate, or at least argumentatively within the realm of reason.

Racism manifests itself in many ways, however, one of the biggest problems of race in America is how differently white folks and black view the concept of race and the significance of racism. White Americans are very eager to embrace a "color-blind" view of the American past as if this will create a "color-blind" future. To point out racial disparity is "playing the race card" and therefore "divisive." This isn't color-blindness, it is simply blindness. African Americans and other people of color simply don't have that luxury, but whenever a prominent African American leader makes a speech like Wright's, it sends the media into a frenzy and political strategists into a damage control mode--and for many it is "proof" that black folks are the true racists.

This is ultimately the problem for Barack Obama—there is tremendous political pressure on prominent black politicians to trade in their "blackness" for some other identity--you can't be Jesse Jackson and win elections. For Obama it is easier because he is also of immigrant descent, and therefore can play the “immigrant card” as he did in his speech. The immigrant narrative, of course, is a very popular one because it is a narrative with which white folks are comfortable (huddling masses of immigrants pulling themselves up by their jockstraps, never benefiting from any government policy, program, or racial preferences). It is an updated version of the rugged individualist myth with an implicit critique of those who "fail"--and we know who they are.

If Obama can successfully negotiate this--more power to him—but we have a long way to go in this country to get past race.

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