19 March 2008

My CityZine Article About Obama and Wright

Save the Obama Drama For Yo Mama!

The Time.com headline said it all. Apparently, discussions about race are unheard of or, at least, unexpected in a post-Civil Rights era presidential election. Hence the reason for characterizing yesterday’s speech by the Democratic frontrunner as “Obama’s Bold Gamble on Race”. Why must it be both bold and a gamble to talk about race? Do you see a happy, melting potted citizenry in this country?

It all began with the sermons of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr., now retired after decades on the pulpit at the Trinity United Church of Christ. Fox News, whether on television or online, depicts him as a hate-monger whose “inflammatory” oratory was simultaneously anti-American and anti-White. Other media outlets followed suit, condemning Obama for attending services at a church where the preacher’s use of black liberation theology was widely accepted. At first glance, with one’s God-given ability to think critically stuck in “Park” rather than shifted to “Drive,” Wright’s words are appalling:

“We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because of stuff we have done overseas is now brought back into our own backyard. America is chickens coming home to roost.”

These are the words Wright delivered after the World Trade Center was brought down by terrorists on September 11, 2001. Is he saying America deserved this tragedy? Hardly. What he is suggesting is that America cannot, in good conscience, think God blindly allows this country to contribute to the ills of this planet without some kind of reciprocation. Some refer to this as karma. The biggest irony about Wright’s statement is that the “chickens coming home to roost” wording also lead to the silencing of a major Civil Rights era figure over 40 years ago. In late 1963, Malcolm X referred to chickens coming home to roost when speaking about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Those words eventually led to his forced departure from the Nation of Islam. The fact that Reverend Wright was borrowing from a historical figure was apparently lost on the major media outlets, but it was patently clear to the people sitting in the church.

Wright’s sermons appear to be a study in theology and sociology. In his mind, and in the minds of others who practice black liberation theology, a sermon cannot address one without addressing the other. This is why Wright would stand on the pulpit and utter things like “Hillary ain’t never been called a nigger” without hesitation. As painful or distasteful as his statement was, it was still true.

Barack Obama refused to completely reject Reverend Wright. Obama used his eloquence to tell America what can be summed up in seven words in the vernacular of Black America: Don’t hate the player, hate the game. This country cannot survive if it continues to ignore issues of race. We are a nation that continues to identify itself as a country of immigrants, knowing full well that the ancestors of one segment of the population were brought here by force. Equating the Middle Passage with voluntary resettlement in a new country is one of the reasons why black liberation theology remains a constant in many black churches. Instead of being surprised at the mention of race in this election, Americans should demand that it be discussed openly by all of the candidates.

04 March 2008

Where the Author Pauses Before Answering

My son posed an interesting question the other day. Not interesting for an adult, mind you, but it was something I hadn't expected to hear from my child at the tender age of 6. Upon looking at the box of a new toy and noticing the human hand in one of the pictures, he asked, "Why are there only white people on the toys and on TV?" Hmmmmm. Good question, young blood.

After praising him for his critical thinking abilities, I reminded him that there are black folks on the TV (although I know good and well that there aren't many of us on the commercials seen on Nickelodeon, Noggin, and the like). I told him the question he should also be asking is why there aren't any Asian and Latino kids represented in the commercials. In the end, I said his question was one he should never hesitate to ask. Ask me. Ask Dad. Ask his teachers. Put all of us grown-ups on the spot and make us stammer through sugar-coated explanations of racism.