I try to keep this blog away from politics, but the unfolding drama of the Democratic party primaries is just too weird to avoid consideration. When Senator Obama made his speech on race relations a few weeks ago I was so taken aback I could hardly think what to say. Americans, let alone American politicians, do not talk honestly about race. I thought maybe we were entering a new era of serious, thoughtful consideration of the role of racial differences in our society. I also thought that Obama may have overestimated the American public’s, or at least the media’s, ability to think deeply about this issue.
With the recent Rev. Wright spectacle, I think my concern was well-placed. Forget the fact that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of African Americans listen to him. They may not agree with him, but they listen. Meanwhile, our media would have us believe that you can only listen to people with whom you agree—100% on every issue. Considering someone’s ideas is tantamount to an endorsement. Thus, since Senator Obama has listened to Rev. Wright for twenty years from his pew, he must agree with everything his pastor says, no matter the topic.
I wonder why there is not a similar uproar in response to comments by Senator McCain’s religious advisor that were demeaning across an entire ethnic and religious swath. The difference, I believe, is race. Gone are the days when a White power structure can deny an African American candidate the ability to campaign. Gone too are the days of naked appeals to notions of racial inferiority. But the beliefs underlying those bad old days are still with us—dressed up and made presentable for public consumption, but there nonetheless.
Pundits are shocked that African American pastors tend to congregations that are both mad as hell and know who to blame for both their current condition and their collective history of unspeakable oppression. They are shocked that the African American community is rife with rumors about government plots to harm them, despite a very clear history, starting with slavery, and continuing through Jim Crow, Tuskegee, and even today in the inferior schools their children may attend. They are shocked that a minister to such a people would see some bit of truth in applying the biblical phrase “as you sow, so shall you reap” to the terrorist menace we now face. Yet, since the Second World War, who has toppled more sovereign governments (Chile, Guatemala, and Vietnam, for starters), invaded more tiny or neutral countries (remember The Bay of Pigs, Grenada, Panama, Vietnam, Cambodia, The Philippines, and oh yes, Iraq) than our own often misguided country. Cannot a true American patriot try, as Senator Obama says, to further perfect the union? Has “My country right or wrong” become our motto?
Maybe the Obama candidacy must be destroyed because some Americans are still not ready to say aloud truths that are so self-evident as to be taught to our school children: colonization wiped out the Native Americans; African American slaves were an essential part of our founding and our economic model for two hundred years; our government sometimes acts in morally indefensible ways by starting wars, conducting medical experiments on its own citizens (e.g. Tuskegee-syphilis and the CIA-LSD experiments); and African Americans today still experience health, wealth and equity disparities that are unconscionable in our wealthy society. Let’s say it all aloud, and the truth shall set us free.