Sunday, March 16, 2008

Reframing Jeremiah Wright

Wright is Obama's pastor who has been so in the news recently for making inflammatory statements. See the ABC News report here. Wright says such things as maybe we should sing God Damn America, and that America's actions helped cause 9/11. I was watching this being discussed on This Week with George Stephanopoulis in the round table, and all the whites on the panel could not conceive, it seemed to me, of any reply to what Wright said in terms other than how reprehensible his statements were. Only African-American Donna Brazile was a dissenting voice, saying that Wright is actually pretty moderate among black preachers, and mentioned the ability of these preachers to uplift their hearers.

If you don't know me, I am a white woman, a progressive/liberal on social issues. I've been doing a lot of reading in current events. And I'm not at all insulted or outraged by the things Wright said. Everything, everything, that I hear about the state of black America today leads me to understand that there are very valid reasons for anger. The rate of imprisonment for black men, tied in part to the rate of much stiffer sentences for crack cocaine than powder cocaine ... guess which one is used more by black and which one is used more by whites (this issue is finally being addressed, by the way). The level of poverty and unemployment. The percentage of predatory loans that are the only loans many blacks and Hispanics can get. The much higher rate of disease, and the much more restricted access to decent health care. On, and on, and on, you can find so many reasons for black anger.

Do I think there are things black culture can do to help with these problems on their own? Things that need fixing by them for themselves? Yes. But there is so much that has to be addressed by all of us, of all colors and genders, to create a lasting positive change. And I don't see it happening much. Reading the comments on the news stories it seems to me that so many whites are complacent. Many of them are willing to vote for Obama. But they seem to think the state of America is just fine, and to bitterly resent any one trying to tell them it is not. How much in the campaign are we hearing about black issues? How much are we hearing about ways of stimulating the economy for the lower end of the income spectrum? How much are we hearing about the deplorable state of American prisons, where there is a huge minority population? You do hear some about health care, but not enough. How much do we hear about the need for better health care, especially mental care, of the troops, which also have a high proportion of minorities?

If you read my book reviews, you'll see a recent review of What We Say Goes, by Noam Chomsky. He discusses that there are some issues you can't basically talk about in the US because people are so convinced of one way of thinking that those who say reality is something different are simply not understood. And that is what I believe I saw today on the round table on This Week. Too many people will simply not look at what Jeremiah Wright is saying with any conception that he may be right.

We've come a long way since the days when a teenaged Emmett Till could be brutally murdered for being impertinent to a white woman. But please let us not think that the distance we've come is all the distance there is. We have further to go, and it will take a majority of us to get there.

As for Reverend Wright, one comment in the Atlantic links to his sermon that gave Obama the title of his book, The Audacity of Hope. Take a look at it to get a more complete picture of the man.

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