Rev. Wright is not like some crazy uncle that eveyone in the family tolerates with a wince and a "What can you do about him?" shrug. This isn't Obama's grandmother to whom he is tied by blood and long years of dependence, where he had to come to terms with her very human failings and take lessons from her very human successes. Oddly enough, I am not as offended by his bumbling description of her as a typical white person as others are. She does strike me as a type of person, a white, midwestern woman of a certain era, a type I know pretty well because I have so many in my family.
I understand what he means about Grandma. Both of my grandmothers were dear, frustrating, hateful, generous, racist, liberal, totally maddening and utterly indespensible participants in my youth. It is mostly with a backwards glance that I can appreciate their better qualities and not turn away from their less pleasant aspects. As I get older and grumpier, I find myself saying and doing things that echo them. [And, it's official, I have become my mother...] I cannot disavow these women, or my other relatives, even as I wish that they could somehow have been more perfect versions of themselves. I want for them to not have been so petty or to have held needless fears, as much for my own selfish reasons as for their sake. I can be kind of petty, too, having learned it from them.
But Rev. Wright is a different matter. You can't call upon family ties to excuse a relationship established with a mentor after you have reached adulthood. This isn't a childhood pastor or family friend. This was a relationship chosen by an adult for intellectual and political as well as spiritual reasons. You can and must disavow a person when he says something beyond the pale of civil discourse in such a public manner, and you must do so for the sake of our common world. Anyone can shoot their mouth off in private, or say something untoward in a public venue, but someone who proudly promulgates an entire philosophy of a people divided into the saved and the damned based upon biological characteristics over which they have no control has placed himself outside the civil polity. This is not about manners or being nice-nice. It is about the substance of the arguments themselves. They are powerful words and such words, like acts, have consequences. This is why I shun the Republican Party, for it has allied itself with purveyors of hate, absorbing that creed deep into its damaged heart.
Someone who deliberately joins an organization whose leader and members celebrate their own superiority and scorn their fellow citizens as less than fully human has no relation to me.