Thursday, March 20, 2008

It's Not About Race- It's About Judgment

I have sat and thought for some time about my own reaction to Rev. Wright and the larger controversy. It is mixed. I had heard about Wright before, when wingnuts tried to make hay out of an award the newsletter from Wright’s church had bestowed upon Louis Farrakhan. I did not poke very deeply into it, considering it nothing more than rightwing racist demagoguery. Farrakhan is a revolting person in many ways, but he is also a commanding one and is not to be dismissed out of hand. Giving him an award is not ipso facto agreement with everything he’s ever said. I condemned the smears and thought no more about them. With the videos that have come out, however, I have reconsidered that initial dismissal. An email exchange with another blogger and several conversations with the spousal unit have helped me sharpen my thought.

While the main focus in the MSM and most blogs has been on the race angle, this has served more to deflect attention away from more substantive issues, much in the way Obama has used race throughout his campaign, casting opponents, critics and even the voters as racists should they fail to capitulate to him. Obama, on paper, is little different than any of the other Democratic candidates, but his public acts continuously demonstrate the gap between his words and his deeds. With his months’ long accusations of racism upended by the incendiary bombast of his self-described father figure, we begin to see it is a tactic to deflect criticism about his lack of judgment. Not experience – judgment. His big speech about racism is another attempt by Obama to create a moral onus and place it upon those who call him into question. This time, it’s not working so well.

It simply is not the case that suddenly America, and particularly the Left, has turned into Trent Lott because Obama is running, nor is it the case that his poll numbers are dropping because the voters woke up and realized, by gosh, Martha, the guy’s black! People who would not have voted for him for President due to race have always held that position, and are far more likely to be found among the Republican “Democrats for a Day” crossovers than among rank and file Democrats.

Yes, there is a legacy of racial crime in the nation, starting well before slavery was enforced in the Constitution and continuing to this day. Bill Clinton made the case well when he spoke of Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March:

The rift we see before us that is tearing at the heart of America exists in spite of the remarkable progress black Americans have made in the last generation, since Martin Luther King swept America up in his dream, and President Johnson spoke so powerfully for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy in demanding that Congress guarantee full voting rights to blacks. The rift between blacks and whites exists still in a very special way in America, in spite of the fact that we have become much more racially and ethnically diverse, and that Hispanic Americans -- themselves no strangers to discrimination -- are now almost 10 percent of our national population.

The reasons for this divide are many. Some are rooted in the awful history and stubborn persistence of racism. Some are rooted in the different ways we experience the threats of modern life to personal security, family values, and strong communities. Some are rooted in the fact that we still haven't learned to talk frankly, to listen carefully, and to work together across racial lines.

The two worlds we see now each contain both truth and distortion. Both black and white Americans must face this, for honesty is the only gateway to the many acts of reconciliation that will unite our worlds at last into one America.

White America must understand and acknowledge the roots of black pain. It began with unequal treatment first in law and later in fact. African Americans indeed have lived too long with a justice system that in too many cases has been and continues to be less than just. The record of abuses extends from lynchings and trumped up charges to false arrests and police brutality. The tragedies of Emmett Till and Rodney King are bloody markers on the very same road.

Still today too many of our police officers play by the rules of the bad old days. It is beyond wrong when law-abiding black parents have to tell their law-abiding children to fear the police whose salaries are paid by their own taxes.

And blacks are right to think something is terribly wrong when African American men are many times more likely to be victims of homicide than any other group in this country; when there are more African American men in our corrections system than in our colleges; when almost one in three African American men in their 20s are either in jail, on parole or otherwise under the supervision of the criminal justice system -- nearly one in three. And that is a disproportionate percentage in comparison to the percentage of blacks who use drugs in our society. Now, I would like every white person here and in America to take a moment to think how he or she would feel if one in three white men were in similar circumstances.

And there is still unacceptable economic disparity between blacks and whites. It is so fashionable to talk today about African Americans as if they have been some sort of protected class. Many whites think blacks are getting more than their fair share in terms of jobs and promotions. That is not true. That is not true.

The truth is that African Americans still make on average about 60 percent of what white people do; that more than half of African American children live in poverty. And at the very time our young Americans need access to college more than ever before, black college enrollment is dropping in America.

One of the examples cited by Rev. Wright in the videos, the Tuskegee Experiment, is nothing less than a crime against humanity. I believe it to be as foul and inhumane as any war crime perpetuated in the 20th – or 21st – century. That it was done in a time of peace upon our own citizens should make all Americans hang their heads in shame. As Bill Clinton said in his formal apology on behalf of the nation for the wrongs inflicted upon these men:

The eight men who are survivors of the syphilis study at Tuskegee are a living link to a time not so very long ago that many Americans would prefer not to remember, but we dare not forget. It was a time when our nation failed to live up to its ideals, when our nation broke the trust with our people that is the very foundation of our democracy. It is not only in remembering that shameful past that we can make amends and repair our nation, but it is in remembering that past that we can build a better present and a better future. And without remembering it, we cannot make amends and we cannot go forward.

So today America does remember the hundreds of men used in research without their knowledge and consent. We remember them and their family members. Men who were poor and African American, without resources and with few alternatives, they believed they had found hope when they were offered free medical care by the United States Public Health Service. They were betrayed.

The United States government did something that was wrong -- deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. It was an outrage to our commitment to integrity and equality for all our citizens.

To the survivors, to the wives and family members, the children and the grandchildren, I say what you know: No power on Earth can give you back the lives lost, the pain suffered, the years of internal torment and anguish. What was done cannot be undone. But we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful, and I am sorry.

The American people are sorry -- for the loss, for the years of hurt. You did nothing wrong, but you were grievously wronged. I apologize and I am sorry that this apology has been so long in coming.

To Macon County, to Tuskegee, to the doctors who have been wrongly associated with the events there, you have our apology, as well. To our African American citizens, I am sorry that your federal government orchestrated a study so clearly racist. That can never be allowed to happen again. It is against everything our country stands for and what we must stand against is what it was.

So let us resolve to hold forever in our hearts and minds the memory of a time not long ago in Macon County, Alabama, so that we can always see how adrift we can become when the rights of any citizens are neglected, ignored and betrayed. And let us resolve here and now to move forward together.

The legacy of the study at Tuskegee has reached far and deep, in ways that hurt our progress and divide our nation. We cannot be one America when a whole segment of our nation has no trust in America. An apology is the first step, and we take it with a commitment to rebuild that broken trust. We can begin by making sure there is never again another episode like this one. We need to do more to ensure that medical research practices are sound and ethical, and that researchers work more closely with communities.

The people who ran the study at Tuskegee diminished the stature of man by abandoning the most basic ethical precepts. They forgot their pledge to heal and repair. They had the power to heal the survivors and all the others and they did not. Today, all we can do is apologize. But you have the power, for only you -- Mr. Shaw, the others who are here, the family members who are with us in Tuskegee -- only you have the power to forgive. Your presence here shows us that you have chosen a better path than your government did so long ago. You have not withheld the power to forgive. I hope today and tomorrow every American will remember your lesson and live by it.

I provided the long quotes from Bill Clinton both to present what the man has actually said and done on the matter of racism in America, and also to make clear from the start how Democrats have spoken about race in the recent past and what the tenor of that conversation has been.

Rev. Wright’s preaching on race is not wrong, for it is grounded in the reality of our nation’s acts towards the black population. It is harshly, unrelentingly right on the way in which racial privilege corrupts and destroys. It also is, however, profoundly lacking in judgment and moral suasion for those outside of Wright’s beloved community. It is adolescent in its resentment against the nation and spiteful in its refusal to admit of the complexity in the relations between races, classes and sexes. It lacks the basic insight (however stupidly put) of Obama’s attempt to explain his maternal grandmother’s thoughts and acts – that the world does not divide so neatly into the saved and the damned.

But it is not race that has so many people inflamed about the preacher’s words. Grant us the sense that God gave geese that most Democrats can see and understand the pernicious and unacceptable effects of racism. Most people I know acknowledge the validity of anger over the racist crimes of this nation, and show a willingness to accept some pretty inflammatory rhetoric on that subject.

What Wright said that has people like me angry is his radical and categorical condemnation of America as such and his hatefully personal derogation of the Clintons.

This man of God called upon his deity to damn the nation. This is what I condemn in the demagogic preachers of the Right, the arrogance and ruthlessness to use the name of God in vain, playing the bully to attract other bullies and cow their opponents. Then there is Wright’s glee in saying how 9/11 is God’s punishment upon the nation – chickens coming home to roost, which is what Malcolm X said upon the news of JFK’s assassination. How is this different than Falwell and Robertson? Wright, as with his like-minded counterparts on the Right, has reduced God to a thuggish enforcer. It is the voice of arrogance, too eager to dole out death and destruction upon his foes, as though God’s judgment is his to proclaim.

This isn’t a religious argument. It is a political one about legitimacy and the rule of law. Wright’s argument is that the nation has no claim upon him and those who follow him, it can place no boundaries that he will acknowledge as just, that its entire existence is illegitimate, and that there is nothing in it worth redemption. Even Lincoln’s terrifying invocation of a blow by the sword for every one inflicted by the lash found an end and a point at which the nation could redeem itself from its crimes. But, in Wright’s vision, the nation as such is damned and thus can be treated with contempt and scorn.

This is a position most of us wine track liberals (even those of us smart enough to eschew the kool-aide and stick with a nice vino verde) know very well, one of the hangovers from our Marxist infatuation days and dorm rooms plastered with posters of Che Guevara. It was so hip and cool (not to mention it pissed off our parents) to be moralistic about America, that terrible place of racist imperialism and oppression of the workers. We hung out in coffee shops and spouted off like Ward Churchill wannabes. We were the Jacobins all over again, except cooler.

It’s the voice of someone who has the same answer, no matter the question. It’s the voice of someone who has found their unified theory of life, the universe and everything, and they dare not relinquish it lest they lose themselves to the ambiguity of compassion – the willingness to put yourself in the place of another and allow your being to be changed. This is what offends me most deeply about Rev. Wright.

On a more practical level, it is also simple minded straight up anti-Americanism, and it’s going over like, if you will, a fart in church. It raises questions for me about Obama’s association with the former Weather Underground people who are unrepentant for murdering their countrymen. It makes me think that the refusal to wear a flag pin (something Bill Moyers has discussed in great detail) or to place a hand over his heart has less charitable explanations than I had heretofore allowed. It makes me think twice about the arrogance of the man, the way in which he publically disdains his opponent and thinks nothing of spreading calumny by calling the Clintons racists. It makes me wonder how he judges and where exactly his moral compass points.

Others on the Left are swift to assure us that they don’t think Obama subscribes to his pastor’s views. Me, I think he would not have remained in that congregation, especially given his political ambitions, had he not found Wright’s thought congenial and believed the words preached under that roof.



gendergappers said...

Thanks for a great article and about time someone quoted President Bill Clinton in a positive manner - especially now concerning race.

I think the idea of BO's campaign is to make gulible white people ashamed of a past they did not create and thus try to escape the shame by voting for BO.

Ya know, it's a hell of a thing when FOX news has much more fair and balanced coverage of Hillary vs BO than the other TV BO suck ups.

Anonymous said...

Great post. After hearing repeatedly on NPR by the usual blithering heads ( Donna Brazille ) amongst them waxing poetic on this HISTORIC speech on race and how they had never before heard another politician speak so candidly or eloquently on this issue? I, the curious sceptic went to American and looked up the top 100 speeches.
Aside from the usual MLK, Jesse Jackson and other civil rights leaders incredible speeches ( Jackson's was historic in addressing the DNC as a presidential candidate twice ), I found this gem...
The historic speech given by President Lyndon B Johnson emploring the congress and the nation on passing the historic civil rights bill. LBJ quoted MLK " We Shall Overcome " and it is titled under this name. Hillary's historic challenge in China to recognize women's rights as human rights is there too. I for one am tired and frankly disgusted by the adoration awarded to this candidate Obama. I'm tired of him branding the Clinton's as racist and their supporters as well. I'm tired of the double standard. Why does the good pastor Wright matter? Obama's insistance on remaining in a church that is founded on a theology that is blatantly racist and anti-american ( check out Black Liberation Theology and esp. Wrights mentor many writings ), his association with a church that awarded a prize to a known anti-semite (Farrakhan), his political association with Chicago fixer Rezco, political favors,hospitals and Michelle's triple raise after he won the senate seat,
I mean the list goes on. Why are republicans voting for him in open primaries? Why is Obama opposing a re-vote in Mich. and Fl.? Why does his campaign preach a new politics and yet resort to tactics right out of the Arkansas Project Playbook. Why is the MSM in his pocket? His campaign is a campaign based on fraud ( ideological ) and bullying ( delegate intimidation and voter intimidation and voter fraud TX. cacuses). Obama prevented his opponent from appearing on the ballot when he ran in Chicago. It is a matter of judgement and words do matter. So do actions. What is frustrating to me is that the latest under the bus victim after ( his typical white person granny ) will utimately be the democratic party. This is'nt a race between two worthy candidates. This is a coup. Well, that felt better. By the way Taylor Marsh has posted an excellent essay by a hero of mine Joseph Wilson on Obama's credentials or lack thereof This is why Richardson is endorsing Obama. It's a great piece and Wilson is'nt looking for a job,but maybe Richardson is.

Anonymous said...

I gave Obama a pass on not wearing the lapel pin because in the sixties when I grew up, the flag-waving was by militaristic bullies.

Then I looked at how he used 8 American Flags as a props for his big speech and felt ill.

Anonymous said...

This is such a beautifully written and thought out piece - thank you for taking the time to craft it and publish it here. It deserves to be widely read and circulated.

Anonymous said...

By the way, went over to another another favorite spot, whizbang blue and got the voice interview Obama gave after the historic speech where he describes his granny as a " typical white person ". Either this man is stupid or he only sees racism through the eyes of the good Rev. Wright. I mean how can he sterotype like this and then act surprised that it would be offensive. This atypical workingclass, college educated white voter is GOBSMACKED! by the hypocrisy of it. This typical white person came of political age during watergate. I remember the first time I connected the political dots, during the national election when Nixon ended the Vietnam war and brought the soldiers home AFTER the election. I asked my folks, mom (dem.) and dad (rep.) could he have done this before the election ? Mom sighed and Dad winked. African Americans should be held to the same standard as any other ethnic group, especially when they run for office. It's not OK to advertize yourself as a victim of racism and soaring advocate for racial justice and then use this type of vocabulary to describe those outside your group. I guesse I'm just like all those other women, a typical white person, lumped in with typical jews, etc... Obama has thrown granny under the bus, lumping her with Wright. Maybe she was'nt afraid of those men on the street because they were black... Maybe it was because she was female... and felt vulnerable because of that. Gusse we'll never know. Poor typical granny is forever branded as a typical white person who spouted racist blather out of ignorance or fear at her beloved multi-racial grandson. So let me get this straight... Obama's white mom is a free spirit who marries a man from Kenya, gives birth to a multi-racial son, moves to Idonesia and after a divorce marries a muslim and has another multi-racial child. Obama goes to live with his mom's folks in order to get a better education in Hawaii. Now why would his free-spirit mom let him grow up with her folks if they were racist ? Why would his grandparents raise him and put him through school if granny was a racist ? All this is happening not in the 1980's or 90's but the 1960's and 70's.
He grew up when interacial marriage was still illegal in some states. Perhaps in Hawaii it was different, but Obama and I are about the same age and perhaps he does'nt see what I see. I have seen the steady progress in race relations play out throughout my life time. My 18 yr. old daughter has multiracial friends and in her group they think nothing of interethnic, interacial, intersexual, or intereligious association or dating. This is in Texas. What is disappointing is that prejudice is something all of us grapple with every time any group is denegrated by stereotype. By reducing me or his own grandmother to the lable of typical white person he exposes his own prejudice. He has racially profiled me. It's hard for me to believe that given his own account of his life, that his mother and his grandmother would foster him in an environment that was privately racist. Indeed their own actions seen through the lens of the 60's and 70's would contradict this. Perhaps he heard granny say racist stuff, or thought he did, or said she did to get street cred with his church ? All I know is I ain't what Rev. Wright or Obama would call a typical white person. I ain't rich. I ain't stupid. and I ain't fooled. Hypocrisy is offensive any way you cut it.

Motherlode said...

Beautifully thought out and written, Anglachel. I wish I'd found your blog much earlier!

Anonymous said...

Well written.

He'll go over as well as Ward Churchill.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to produce this thoughtful essay.

1950 Democrat said...

Heh. About Wright sometime writing something about someone called Farrakin(sp?) or Hamas (isn't that made with garbanzo beans?)....

In an early debate, in quite a different connection, Hillary said something like, "The American people don't care what one person they never heard of said about another person they never heard of."

I've heard of God.

1950 Democrat said...

Speaking of white guilt and all that....

In his blog at
Steve Sailor quotes a story from Obama's memoir "Dreams", which shows Obama's white grandfather displaying some shocking liberal guilt (and dysfunctionally dumping it on a 17-year-old Obama).

The grandmother wanted a ride to work because she had been threatened at the bus stop by a bum. The grandfather refused to give her a ride -- because she had said the
bum was Black. The grandfather is more upset about her word than about the physical danger she is in at the bus stop. He wants to leave her in that physical danger because of the word she used.

No wonder Obama thinks words are powerful -- and knows how to use white guilt as a powerful tool for manipulating white liberals. He was raised from age 10 by such a white guilt grandfather.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Your writing deserves to be read by the media pundits and by Democratic party activists who still care about our party!