At the end of March, the long-simmering issue of Barack Obama’s pastor finally came to the forefront, with members of the media stumbling over each other to see who could air the most offensive remarks ever made by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. of Chicago. So let’s take a look at some of the comments that got the most airplay and therefore broke through white America’s bubble and stirred up all those scary projections lurking beneath the surface.
— The good Reverend, like many of the rest of us, felt that this country had some responsibility in the 9-11 event of 2001. He didn’t even go so far as some white conspiracy theorists who believe it was an inside job. He merely observed that our foreign policy of the past few decades may have stirred up some resentment around the world. He stated that 9-11 was a result of God’s wrath, and since he is a preacher, I can see why God played a major part in his analysis. But skip the God part and go directly to our foreign policy as a factor, and you’ll have lots of folks across the globe in agreement.
— The Rev. Wright, who may have read Gary Webb’s well-publicized series in the San Jose Mercury about a decade ago, has talked about how the CIA helped to get drugs into black inner city neighborhoods. Of course, Webb wasn’t the only one making this charge. I was part of a group that put on the Drug Peace Conference at SSU in 1990 where Oakland’s Uhuru House came and made the same charges. We were a bunch of pot advocates dealing with pot decriminalization long before Proposition 215 was ever an idea in some state legislator’s mind. Some among us felt that the Uhuru House’s position was way too radical, but time went on and the idea finally got mainstream attention, thanks to Webb and others.
— Horror of horrors, the good Reverend pointed out to his congregation that Israel was occupying the Palestine territories and being kind of mean to the people they had uprooted and oppressed since 1948. That of course is a huge no-no, even with some on the left. One must run the possibility of being called anti-Semitic for observing what is obvious, so most people just shut up about it and the elephant in the room gets comfortable.
— Then there is the specter of AIDS being introduced by the government as a genocidal weapon against black folks. Like the other comments, it is hardly a new idea, as some in the gay community have felt targeted this way since the ’80s. Whether it is true or not, it has been a widely accepted talking point.
These are just a few examples of the Rev. Wright’s remarks that have received the most airplay, and they are all things that have been talked about for decades but are apparently new ideas to a lot of white folks. Gee, could there be a reality disconnect among our various diverse communities? Much of white America still believes that everyone sees reality through the dominant culture, and they continue to be shocked when they are reminded that our realities are and have been very different for centuries.
One of the reasons for Obama’s appeal to these white folks is that he has seemed to extend his hand and smile unconditionally. In other words, no work is needed by anyone to really understand the ongoing damage done by our legacy of racism. We’ll just all get united, sing some inspiring songs together and get past all that has yet to be discussed or understood by those who most need to understand. We can all continue to feel good about ourselves as we are very tired of feeling guilty and wondering what we can do.
After all, the concept of white racism, which has been around for a while but not yet embedded in the collective consciousness, is such a downer. With Obama, we can just forget all of that-after all, he is half-white; just by being, he can unify us. And then reality crashes through with the words of his pastor, and all hell breaks loose.
As a white woman of more years than you need to know who has worked for over 45 years against oppression, I’m really pissed that Obama must go through all these explanations just to pacify those who either haven’t been paying attention or just don’t care. And that doesn’t even include those who are deliberately fanning the flames of overt racism. What I’m talking about here are just the misconceptions and ignorance that lurk in the subconscious of those well-meaning people who are now scared of Obama’s longtime friend and adviser. The Rev. Wright is a respected fighter for justice in Chicago’s black community who has beliefs that are shared widely with many in this country for a variety of reasons. Good for you Obama, that you refused to denounce him even though it may cost you some votes.
Camp Meeker resident Mary Moore is a longtime Sonoma County activist. Open Mic is now a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write [ mailto:[email protected] ][email protected]