Yes he is.
Ten years ago, I would have embraced Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a hero of the faith. I would have ignored his racism (I’ll get to that in a minute) and adored him as a prophet of the modern church. I would have cheered and clapped and swooned over his impassioned speeches. I would have had sage discussions with my schoolmates about his ever-so-wonderful ideas. Back then I was a teenager and we were in a community that frequently flirted with the radical left while trying to maintain a conservative theology (bad idea, by the way). The hero ten years ago was Mumia Abu Jamal. We children were heavily involved in the campaign to “Save Mumia” and I wrote a few impassioned letters to the judge presiding over his case, citing the Bible (“Judge not lest ye be judged”) and threatening the judge with eternal hellfire if he didn’t free Mumia. Every child in the community school had a death-row inmate pen-pal. We sent them newsletters and I corresponded with my pen pals for years, until one of them combined an attempt to convert me to Islam with a proposal of marriage in his letter.
We were so angry, so self righteous, and so very, very ignorant.
These days, I’m more inclined to think of the Reverend as a jerk. And I know that is highly uncharitable. But the other descriptions I can think of are hardly more kind. He’s a racist. He’s a supporter of Hamas. He’s a twister of truth.
I wonder of Obama’s annoyance with this guy is genuine. ‘Cause mine certainly is. I have listened to and read transcripts of his sermons/speeches that caused so much trouble and I cannot understand how people can defend him so staunchly. He is a master of manipulating words and emotions in order to make his point. When I heard him claim that all opposition to him is actually a racist hatred of the way black Christians worship, my jaw dropped open. I have not heard one single person mention the worship style of African American churches as a reason why they dislike this man. How could anyone possibly believe that?? Heck, I go to a predominantly black church, who’s pastor was raised in black pentecostalism. We see the dancing, clapping, shouting, Amen-ing, every week and get resonant, energetic preaching on a frequent basis. That style has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the nonsense that comes from Rev. Wright’s pulpit.
I’ve mentioned his racism several times and I’m sure some will grimace and curse me for doing so. One thing I noticed is that this man is, by his obsession with all things related to the “black experience” and “black theology”, perpetuating the “one drop rule”. That is the ridiculous notion that one single drop of “black blood” makes one black, for all intents and purposes, to the exclusion of all other heritage. This is the thinking that resulted in those ridiculous labels-mulatto (half black), quatroon (one quarter black), octaroon (nobody can tell by looking but your great-grandma was black, so you are too). In one of his speeches he mentioned his own color, stating that it’s not his fault he’s light skinned. I suppose that’s true but the deeper implication is, he’s mad about his light skin.
Also, the “Afrocentrism” that he and his church so proudly proclaim really baffles me. Some of the books in their online bookstore are actually quite disconcerting (One subtitle asks “Did all the good things in Christianity really come from African religions?”). The problem with this thinking is that it completely ignores that while Africa has had it’s very great civilizations and has also suffered a great deal, Europe and America didn’t have a corner on evil. Africans (and Arabs) enslaved each other, and willingly participated in the slave trade, joining forces with white slavers to capture their prey. When talking about slavery and religion, Wright also completely ignores the fact that white Christians played a huge role in ending slavery. He talks about African American Christianity being a “religion that fought slavery”. Perhaps he’s forgotten about the Underground Railroad, Quakers and other white Christians who provided food and safety and transport. Their work and hospitality and love and sacrifice don’t count because they were white? Hmmmm. Apparently it’s OK to discount and hate someone because of their skin color, as long as they’re white.
On a slight tangent: There is another interesting thing about Afrocentrism. African immigrants often experience a great deal of racism and hatred from black Americans. For all their love of the “mother continent” they seem to have an inordinate dislike of recent immigrants from the great continent. One African American man (from our church!) actually confessed to my husband that he thought Africans were backwards and stupid until they met. He isn’t the only one who thinks that way.
Moving on to another outrageous claim of his…..Jeremiah Wright said that the government introduced AIDS (and drugs) into the black population. His “proof”, which was so brilliantly stated by Rosie O’Donnell this week, is that “It’s already happened-the government was infecting blacks with syphilis at Tuskeegee for fourty years!” Now, Tuskeegee was a completely inexcusable ethical and moral failure, and I want to be clear on that. However, the government was studying men who were already infected, on the basis of the thought that the treatments of the time might be doing more harm than good. The ethical failure was in not telling the men they had the disease. That was wrong, wrong, wrong. But it wasn’t necessarily racist. If you look at pictures of the medical personel involved, you will also note that several administrators of the study were…..African American. The “whistle blower” on the project, who eventually went public with his concerns was…a white man. Hmmmm…and hmmm again. Yet somehow Tuskeegee has morphed into an example of how whites hate blacks and want to kill them all.
His latest big speech was full of this kind of ridiculosity. He claimed that black and white minds are different, that we think differently and learn differently by biological fact. Remember the uproar when someone noticed men and women use their brains differently? I wondered why Jeremiah Wright got cheers and claps for his statement. Didn’t anyone laugh when the “proved” brain differences by having his audience clap, and insisting that whites and blacks naturally clap on different beats. In the same speech he defended “ebonics” and mocked several presidents in a most vicious way for their accents, hoping, apparently, to connect regional accents with bad language skills. Now, I have no problem with accents. And really, people can talk in whatever way they wish. But my husband will tell you that being understood by others requires good language skills, and is very important in order to succeed. He knows this by experience.
Rev. Wright kept repeating that “different does not mean deficient” and I agree with that. What annoys me is that he is taking righteous anger over past problems and playing the martyr today. I don’t care about his color or his style. I care about what he says. And what he says is outrageous and wrong. And hateful. And yes, it is also divisive, despite his protestations to the contrary.
Some might wonder why I appear so upset about this. I’m a white woman, what does it matter to me? Well, I happen to be married to an actual African (as opposed to an “Afrocentric” born and bred American). And my sons are, by Jeremiah Wright’s figuring, “black”. Remembering my own youthful and misguided political passions, it occurs to me that someday my sons are going to be faced with similar things. Will one of them be drawn in by his generation’s Reverend Wright? Will they tolerate me because I birthed them, but secretly bear shame for their light skin and “privilage”? I worry about this. Racism reversed is still racism. I want my children to grow up without obsessing about skin color, one way or the other. I want them to identify as humans, as sons, brothers, friends, as Christians. Not as “black” or “white” or “mixed”. I am going to teach them the blessings and the curses of their entire heritage, Euro/American and African. There is enough blame to go around to everyone, and God’s grace is enough to cover that blame, too. I’m so glad God isn’t color-obsessed.