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.