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Reverend Right on Race

June 2008


As Obama repudiates a black preacher whose truths discomfort white America, McCain trumpets the backing of white preachers who vilify gay Americans of any color


In my senior year in college, I took “Introduction to Comparative Government.” The large course was taught by Karl Deutsch, a revered and academically well-decorated professor. In class, students were called upon to compare the political cultures of various nations. Each country, Professor Deutsch noted, has its own defining political ethos, a central strand of thinking unique to its history which shapes its internal and external politics. One student asked the professor what was the issue that thusly defined the United States. Without pause, Deutsch answered, “a centuries-long history of chattel slavery.”


Though that remark is now a quarter-century old, today’s presidential campaign reminds us just how bedeviled our country remains with racism. Nowhere is that bedevilment more obvious than in the savage media treatment of Jeremiah Wright, former pastor to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barak Obama, the first non-white nominee of a major party.


For weeks, Fox News and all its corporate media cousins have bombarded viewers with replays of Wright’s fiery sermons, portraying him as anti-American and anti-white; indeed, the received wisdom from “the pundits” is that Wright is an extremist whose views are unacceptably radical.


But sober consideration of Wright’s comments and the differing standard he and Obama are held to — compared to white colleagues — reveal just how racism continues to plague our country.


Few critics of Wright address the substance of his statements, instead focusing on his tone and lack of a robotic “my country right or wrong” mindset.


Take, for example, the remark that gets Wright’s detractors in the foamiest lather: “The government gives [black people] drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no — God damn America.”


Or Wright’s observation, “We nuked far more than the thousands killed in [9/11], and we never batted an eye. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards.”


Wright could be criticized, perhaps, for using such language were he running for president, wherein diplomatic euphemisms are required. But Wright is a preacher. And his prophetic pronouncements put him in patriotic company: Thomas Jefferson noted of slavery, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just… The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us….”


And Martin Luther King, whose love for his countrymen brought the ultimate sacrifice, was to have preached the Sunday after his assassination a sermon titled “Why America May Go to Hell,” wherein he, like Wright, linked the country’s racism to its imperial, bellicose foreign policy.


And consider what a different standard applies to white preachers who advocate America as a Christian and rigidly heterosexual nation.


Republican John McCain has pursued endorsements from evangelists John Hagee and Pat Robertson. Hagee’s likening of the Roman Catholic church to Hitler’s Nazis (united, according to him, in their thirst for Jewish blood) has garnered negative media attention, but McCain’s preachers’ vitriolic anti-gay animus goes virtually unchallenged. Hagee blames Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans’ tolerance of gay folk. Robertson told his flock that among those at the root of the 9/11 attacks were “the gays and lesbians.” Both men say schools should teach children that God will eternally torture unrepentant homosexuals.


As Obama repudiates a black preacher whose truths discomfort white America, McCain trumpets the backing of white preachers who vilify gay Americans of any color.


Professor Deutsch, how right you were.


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