alright. let’s talk about it then.

Updated: posted 9/16/08: Tim Wise states this issue much more clearly than I ever could.

Okay media. You won’t let it go away. So let’s talk about it, shall we?

Unless you’ve spent your entire life watching people who look like you be represented as thugs, criminals, and drug addicts in the mainstream media; unless you’ve been stopped or harassed by the police or a customs agent or an NSA agent at the airport for no other reason than because “you look suspicious”; unless you’re choices of career are between a shit-minimum-wage-job and some other shit-minimum-wage-job; unless you’ve got no hope to get into a Yale or a Harvard or a Stanford because your daddy didn’t go to one of those schools (hell, daddy didn’t even finish high school), and you grew up in an urban public school; and even if you did get into a Yale or a Harvard or Stanford, unless you were totally bewildered by how to behave and act because you weren’t raised on Shakespeare and Moby Dick and couldn’t write a decent five-paragraph essay to save your life; if when your school teachers told you about U.S. history, they only talked about Washington and Jefferson signing the Declaration of Independence and glossed over the Civil War as that time when good Mr. Lincoln freed the slaves but failed to talk about how the Klan controlled the South for over a century after Reconstruction; unless this is how you’ve spent your life, then you have no idea how it feels to live as a second class citizen. And if you do understand, from your own first-hand experience, how it feels to live as a second class citizen, then you can understand why Rev. Wright is so pissed off. He’s pissed off because he’s been classified by the larger American culture as a second class citizen for most of his life, and when he looks back on his people’s history, all he sees are centuries of segregation, suppression, injustice, lynchings, and slavery. In that mindset, you bet it’s hard to find a glimmer of hope, the possibility of change. You’d better believe that you’d be pissed off, too.

But here’s the deal. One of the things my conservative friends are often proud of saying is that they’re glad that we live in a country where people are free to express their opinions; that one of the things that sets us apart from those totalitarian regimes in other parts of the world, is that we can believe whatever we want to believe. Well, if that’s true, then it stands to reason that the good Rev. Wright is entitled to believe whatever he wants to believe. He’s got that right, and there isn’t a thing you can do to take his beliefs away from him. All you can do is not pay attention.

You might not like what he says. He might make you uncomfortable. You may disagree with his methods, his motivations, even his message. And you’ve got that right, too. But you can not dismiss the validity of his experience as a second class citizen. You can not simply choose to erase from our shared history the reality of four hundred years of slavery and oppression in this country. You can not choose to ignore that history because it’s already happened. All you can do is choose how to deal with it. And so far, “media,” you’ve chosen to label Rev. Wright as a “fiery,” “offensive,” “nut-job” who’s a “liability” to Mr. Obama’s candidacy.

Well here’s the other deal. You may be surprised to learn this one, but it’s true. Not all black people think exactly alike. I know. I know. That’s revolutionary stuff. But some black people are conservative. Other black people are progressive. Some black folks think abortion should be illegal. Black folks, just like all people, are individuals who have their own individual perspectives on things. Mr. Obama is not Rev. Wright. Just because he might have heard him say something that some white folks might find offensive has nothing to do with what Mr. Obama actually thinks or will actually do as president. Nor is it any barometer for his own character or his judgement. In what way does his sitting in a church relate to his ability to make good decisions? A church is not a man. A church is a complex social organization that is run by dozens of people, by committees and boards; and in the case of Trinity United, an organization that does some pretty fine charitable work for its community. The only judgement Mr. Obama made was to be part of that community and, at worst, listen someone who he may not agree with for an hour on Sundays.

This is not a test of Mr. Obama’s patriotism. Of course Mr. Obama loves his country. How do I know this? Because he is running for president. People who do not love their country do not run for elected office. They blow up Federal Buildings. They send bombs through the U.S. Postal Service. Do you really believe that Mr. Obama is running for president because he thinks America is cesspool of depravity? That white folks are the devil?

Alright media. You want to talk about offensive things people say that our elected officials may or may not have heard and may or may not agree with? We can go down that road. But it makes far more sense to me to go down the road of questioning the actually offensive things actual elected officials have said or done that have caused actual physical harm.

To give you a taste of what that would like, here’s a quote from an advisor to our current President:

If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network. In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.

And I ask you: why has this been largely ignored by the mainstream media? Here is a man who works for the Bush administration who provides legal council on how to justify interrogation techniques that would “arguably violate criminal prohibition” (i.e., torture people), and rather than spill some ink on this issue, we get an endless parade of articles about the opinions of a man who worked at a church the Obamas go to. Not a top advisor to the Obama campaign; not a man who will likely be given a Cabinet position; a preacher. A preacher with opinions you might not like, but still just a preacher.

So let it go, Big Media. What Rev. Wright says and does only matters to you. It only matters to the American people because you keep bringing it up. If you brought up the war more often or the John Yoo “torture memos” more often or social inequality and injustice more often maybe Rev. Wright would have less of a reason to be so pissed off.

9 thoughts on “alright. let’s talk about it then.

  1. I have to say that it does matter to many Americans and not just the media. The reason is is that many Americans feel that those tuypes of beliefs that the Rev. exposed are a disgusting insult to this country.

    The reason why it is relevant to Obama is the fact that many people also can’t believe Obama attended a church where this kind of anti-American preaching was taking place.

    It’s clearly obvious that Mr. Wright was preaching this for all the years because it is what he believes. So was Mr. Obama sleeoping at every sermon? I assume not. So I assume that he has heard these outlandish statements many times before in the last 30 years. And now many Americans rightly feel it is disingenuous if not a downright lie that Obama either never heard this before or he has always thought those ideas were wrong.

    If he really thought that years ago, he would have stopped attending the church.

    Now, please note that I have supported Obama as you can see from past posts of mine on my blog and that I hate Bush.

    So for me to feel this way about Obama means it may be a very serious problem for him in terms of him securing the election.

    Thank you for your time.

  2. “I have to say that it does matter to many Americans and not just the media.”

    Things matter to the American people in part because the media talks about them. If the media talked about other issues more often, those no doubt would matter.

    “The reason is is that many Americans feel that those tuypes of beliefs that the Rev. exposed are a disgusting insult to this country.”

    How, exactly, do you insult a country? Are you personally offended by what Rev. Wright said? Those are two different things.
    “If he really thought that years ago, he would have stopped attending the church.”

    Like I said in my post, “churches” are not “preachers.” A lot more goes on in a church than just what the preacher says on Sunday morning. And a lot people keep going to churches — even when they disagree with the pastor — because they have some other connection to the larger community. I strongly disagree with the decisions and attitude of some of my own community’s leaders. That doesn’t mean I should give up on the whole community because there’s plenty of good to off-set some of the things I find problematic.

    To say that Obama should not belong to a community because of what one person in that community said is to grossly over-simplify an incredibly complex component of his life, of any religious person’s life.

    It would be similar to saying, “Pres. Bush thinks torturing people is okay. I’m moving to Canada.” Just because one of our country’s leaders thinks something I disagree with does not necessarily mean I should denounce the entire country.

    You can disagree with any of my above sentiments. But the thing that really really bothers me about this is that there is a clear double-standard. Republican Presidents have had just as incendiary preachers in their lives and no one questions their judgement or their patriotism. To be perfectly frank, I think the Rev. Wright issue allows the media (and other conservatives) to play the race card against Obama without playing it on Obama himself. They can denounce the attitudes and beliefs of this one black man and by association denounce Obama.

    This is not an issue. Obama doesn’t hate America. And he stayed at Trinity United, I’m guessing, for his family. God forbid we elect someone who cares enough about his family and country to put up with the crap he has to put up with, whether it’s from Rev. Wright, Fox News, or stupid bloggers like myself, and do it with the grace and poise and intelligence that Obama has done it with.

  3. First of all, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed reading your article 🙂

    But to be honest I’m not very convinced that people look any differently at “Second Class Citizens”. I don’t like the term “Second Class Citizens” in the first place but let’s call it that for the sake of argument. My point of view is based on the Canadian culture but I’m sure it’s very similar in the US. Most “First Class Citizens” don’t even notice a difference between themselves and others, let alone treat them differently. No one ever considered a person a criminal simply because they had darker skin! Ok, saying no one is an exaggeration, but honestly speaking 99% of the population has no problem at all in regards to ethnicity or skin colour. A city like Toronto has less than 50% white people anyway so the whites are the minority. I think the problem is that the racist few are always very prominent and they hide all the good normal people out there who far outnumber the sick racists.

  4. Hi there.

    First, I’d like to say that the statement “no one ever considered a person a criminal…” is more than just an exaggeration. It’s simply not true.

    Let me remind you of Jim Crow laws. What Jim Crow laws did was say, “If you are a person of color, you can not do X. If you do X, you’re breaking the law.” That, I’m sorry to say, is the very definition of thinking someone is a criminal by virtual of their skin color.

    I am hard pressed to believe that 99% of the population doesn’t have a problem with ethnicity. And if you mean that 99% of the population in Canada doesn’t have a problem, then I guess I’m moving to Canada! Because lord almighty do 99% of the people in the U.S. have a problem with ethnicity.

    Moreover, I’m going to challenge you to think differently about what “race,” “racism,” and “racist” mean. Simply saying that a particular city is less than 50% white does not mean that that city isn’t racist or doesn’t have the potentiality of enacting racist laws. I’m sure you’ve heard of South Africa? As little as 20 years ago, the 20% of white people owned all the wealth, ran the government, and forced the 80% African population to live in shanty towns. Would you consider these people to be “not racist” by virtue of the fact that they are the minority? Hardly.

    And you’re wrong about “First Class Citizens” not noticing a difference between themselves and others or do not treat them differently. Again, maybe in this fabled land of “Toronto” you have achieved pure harmony among races. But that isn’t how it is down here in the lower forty-eight.

    I’ll give you an example. A friend of mine was spat on — that’s right, spat on — by a white man while riding the bus by virtue of the fact that she’s black. If that’s not a white person treating a black person differently, I don’t know what is. (And I’ll mention that this happened here, in the “liberal” Berkeley, California.)

    I’m sorry you don’t like the term “Second Class Citizen.” I don’t particularly like the term “moral majority” but to the extent that people use that term, to the extent that it’s become a verifiable social phenomena out there in the world, to the extent that people identify as belonging to the “moral majority” or treated as “second class citizens,” I guess we’re both going to have to listen people and take them seriously.

    I’m being somewhat glib here. I know I’m being a little insulting. And part of me really wants to turn comments off for this post because I don’t have the energy to deal with arguing with people.

    But I’m going to let it stand. I’m going to let it stand because I think people need to see comments like these. I think people need to see that they’re being blind to racial inequalities in our world and using faulty logic like yours to support their views.

    AND, I’m going to say it again so that people reading this post in the future will understand where I’m coming from:

    1- African Americans have been, are, and sadly probably will be treated differently in this country because of social systems that are inherently racist. You can disagree with me on that point if you want to, but I’m not going to argue about it.

    2- there is a clear double standard in the press when they deconstruct every little thing Rev. Wright says and claim it will harm Obama’s candidacy while ignoring the long litany of bigoted, hateful, fear-mongering, whackos the Republicans have been courting for decades.

    I’m going to say it again. Can we move on now?

  5. Well, it is going to continue to be an issue because this is politics, as much as anything else. Rev. Wright going off in public repeatedly as he did this last week is just going to u-boat Obama politically. I assume that the good Reverend is doing this on purpose at this point, possibly out of a desire to be in the media. This whole thing, regardless of the media hyperfocus, is likely to sink Obama and McCain and Clinton couldn’t have asked for something better to be handed to them. That’s the realpolitik of the situation.

  6. You might be right, Al, but that doesn’t mean we should either (a) give up the fight or (b) be thoroughly outraged that we live in this sort of society. When you see an injustice being done and fail to act you become a party to that injustice.

  7. While I agree in principle, we’re surrounded by injustice on a daily basis. Our society is built on the injustice which is our entire economic and political system. I can be outraged all that I want but taking effective action to create justice is very very hard. Personally, I seriously doubt that it is going to come simply by voting for the rubber-stamped and approved candidates from the bought and sold political parties. We aren’t offered choices but simply the facsimile of choice.

    The government and other powers in this country are not going to change until they are forced to do so. This is only likely to come, unfortunately for us all, when the majority of Americans decide that enough is enough. Of course, as long as we get our television and our consumer goods (bread and circuses) most people aren’t going to rock the boat. Heck, we’ve had a war going on for more than five years now that people are only dissatisfied with because we aren’t winning.

  8. Maybe there are double stabdards but many conservatives could also point out what they believe are double standards as well.

    For me that really doesn’t matter. It really is very simple for me. The types of statements Mr. Wright said disgust me. I personally would not remain in an environment that promotes thoses kinds of beliefs. And I therefore cannot understand how or why Obama would have remained there as well.

    Please note that I am not abandoning Mr. Obama. But it does worry me.

  9. Thanks scott for taking the time to reply to my message.

    I can’t claim I know about everything that’s going on across all of North America so maybe things vary from state to state. But from my personal experience, yes we can and do live in harmony. I have never looked at an “African American” differently because of their skin colour. I actually had a couple of “African American” friends in school and I almost never noticed we were different in anyway… because we are not!

    I really hate it when American channels like the CNN start saying how many “Whites” or “African Americans” or “Hispanics” voted for a certain candidate! I think these classifications are unacceptable in the first place because they make people involuntarily start classifying others in that manner. If the media starts changing and looking at all people as simply “American” then maybe things will start improving on your side of the border.

    Sorry if I sounded like I’m trying to say Canadians are less racist. That wasn’t my objective at all. I just think that most people are not racist and it’s just a few that ruin it for all.

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