Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama's Rev Wright Problem Highlights the Real Issue

Surely no adult American with internet access, a television, or a newspaper hasn't heard of the Rev Wright problem. The minister of the church 2008 Presidential hopeful Barack Obama attended for 20 years and regards as a "family member" has had his true feelings broadcasted publicly in the last two weeks. Americans are witnessing the videotaped espousal of racist views from an individual to which Obama is closely tied. On March 18th, 2008, Barack Obama delivered a speech on his response to Reverend Wright's comments, and racism in the United States at large. While many have focussed on the merits of his speech I can't help but think about the serious issues he left untouched.

First, Obama compares Rev Wright's comments to his white grandmother's comparable, but diametrically opposed, statements. He states he cannot sever his ties to Rev Wright anymore than he can to his grandmother. I concur that attempting to separate himself from Rev Wright after 20 years of attending his church would be nothing less than disingenuous. Yet I also note that the two people he is comparing are in significantly different circumstances. Although his grandmother may have made many racist comments (which I in no way support) she certainly was not preaching to a large congregation or revered by a large group of people as a source of moral guidance as was Rev. Wright. Therefore, while their opposing views may represent the two ends of the racial issue spectrum, the implication of Rev Wright's public proclamation of his views to his congregation as actionable activity to be undertaken is starkly more serious.

Second, Obama claims he had not heard the more controversial of Rev Wright's statements. 20 years he never heard them? I find this difficult to believe. Then again, maybe Obama attends church as much as he does his job in the U.S. Senate.

Third, anyone who believes racism no longer exists in this country is either a simpleton or deranged. It happens more frequently than it ever should in an "enlightened" country such as our own. Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender should be illegal. However, we continue to allow racial dividing lines through such things as the Equal Opprotunity Act. While I can agree with the need for racial equality (which is not something Equal Opportunity achieves), whenever our society, no less our government, endorses the demarcation of a racial divide we slip farther away from our true objective of equality.

Rev Wright's strongly stated objectives further strain the already tenuous situation and go far beyond equality back to a position of intentioned inequality, as if that is the panacea for easing years of wrongdoing. And I go back to Obama's attempt to placate Wright's position and distance himself, which stands in sharp contrast to his unwillingness to do so for 20 years while he was an attending (so we're told) member of Wright's church. I fail to see how Obama's words, eloquent as they may have been, are at all consistent with his actions. When the pastor of my church of 4 years began making statements I disagreed with (far less contentious, I might add) we left the church.

Fourth, had the roles been reversed and John McCain's white pastor made the kind of comments Obama attributes to his white grandmother, the public and media outcry, not to mention Obama's denouncement, would have been drastically more severe. For instance, when an African American police officer threw a paralyzed white man out of his wheelchair the public was scarcely aware. Had it not been for viral circulation of the video through You Tube and email it might not have been revealed at all. Even Obama is guilty of such two-sidedness. Recall Obama's 2007 calls for the firing of Don Imus over his racially insensitive remarks in the Rutgers women's basketball scandal. Yet Imus was making insensitive remarks (note that I do not in any way condone Imus' remarks) compared to Wright's outright call for active discrimination. So why is it okay to rationalize Rev Wright's comments while there is no reasonable way to rationalize Imus'?

This nation will never be free from racial peril. Acknowledging its existence is a step in the right direction. Recognizing there is an experiential difference at the root of racism is also helpful. However, there can be no progress until the proverbial playing field is level. Obama claims he is interested in racial justice, but his actions are inconsistent with his words. Let us recognize Obama's speech for what it really was: his speechwriter's efforts to dig Obama out of a political pitfall.

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