A “Blog Conversation” on Reverend Wright.

As I navigate through the world wide web, I see that Rev. Jeremiah Wright continues to be a polarizing figure. His name is usually raised in the context of an attack on Barack Obama, or a statement of concern about the perceived ill will that African Americans have toward white Americans.

I don’t want to be, or seem to be, a Rev. Wright apologist. He is intentionally overly provocative, and seems to have a nose for controversy. I don’t agree with everything he says.

But it does bother me to hear people say that, for example, Wright is a purveyor of hate speech against white Americans in particular or America in general. That’s just wrong.

I engaged in a conversation on this subject on another website, and I feel this is worth sharing.

INITIAL COMMENT ON REV. WRIGHT:

One thing that I am shocked and hurt by during this campaign season is to discover the fact that people of color have so much hatred or ill feelings towards whites. I have never in my lifetime had any bad feelings towards blacks, in fact, have had quite a bit of good wishes and good will towards them.

I hope I am not speaking out of line here, but trying to be honest. I cannot tell you how horrified I was to hear Jeremiah Wright screaming about rich white people and about our country.

And I am particularly heartbroken to hear this from a pulpit, where truth is supposed to be spoken. And the unforgivable to me is that he has and is teaching his people and youth to think of us an the enemy. I always thought that as a Christian, there was a common ground, you know, the “there is no slave nor free, but all One in Christ,” stuff.

Naive? I guess so. But I really didn’t want to know about those feelings, but they quite obviously exist. In fact, it has made me stand back and wonder, do all the people of color who I have worked with and known and run into every day feel this way towards me? I don’t know any more.

MY RESPONSE:

Rev. Wright is not a sympathetic figure. He is so extremely disliked by so many people, it’s probably impossible at this point to change minds that he is not the monster that people believe him to be.

But on the subject of Wright, I offer this not for purposes of persuasion, but in the hope of providing some insight and context regarding some of his more controversial comments:

[1] Rev. Wright does not preach hate, he doesn’t even come close. If you think he preaches hate, you haven’t really heard people who do.

[2] The closest person to Rev. Wright rhetorically, that most whites can “relate to” as an example, is Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh’s speech is hard coded to his target audience. Outside of the context of his listeners, his comments are considered racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-intellectual, etc.

The thing is, Rush says things that extremely provocative to the point of meeting the legal definition of fighting words.

Wright is like that. Wright is basically a fire and brimstone preacher for whom rhetorical excess is considered a virtue. But away from his regular listeners who know the full context in which he speaks, he can seem offensive.

[3] A white news reporter from Chicago who was very familiar with Wright did an interview with Fox News’ Greta van Susteren.

Van Susteren asked, is Rev Wright anti-white? The reporter said no, he is anti-white establishment.

If you understand the distinction the reporter was making, you will “get” why Wright is not a racist or preaches white hate.

If you don’t understand the distinction, then you won’t get it.

[4] Rush Limbaugh rails against the liberal establishment, and he doesn’t care who he offends in the process-in some cases, he INTENDS to offend the establishment. The same is true with Wright.

Here’s a difference between the two. It’s hard to imagine any liberal working with Limbaugh on any project of substance that provides positive social change.

Wright, meanwhile, has a proven history of working with whites and even the government on community and religious projects.

What, you’ve never heard of Wright being involved is positive projects involving whites? Well, you are in the conservative target audience, so of course you wouldn’t have heard of these things.

[5] I consider Rev. Wright a tragic figure. Given his background, and his new found notoriety as the pastor for a presidential candidate, he well situated to engage in a useful and perhaps healing discussion of race.

The problem was, he preferred being more like Rush than like Barack.

Wright couldn’t look past his target audience. It’s like he’s on a radio station with a weak signal; and when given the opportunity to have a station with a more powerful signal, but with the requirement that he had to change his style to reach a wider audience… Wright said “I’ve been doing this too long to flip my script. I’ll just stay where I am.” Too bad for him.

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION

…I can’t think of a single context where “gd America” or blaming every evil known to man on white people would be appropriate…

MY FOLLOW UP RESPONSE

OK, let me try this another way.

[1] Answer these questions Yes or No.
• Do you believe in God? Y/N
• Do you believe God punishes evil? Y/N
• Do you believe that people who kill innocent lives are deserving of eternal damnation? Y/N

Let’s assume you said yes to all of the above, and keep this in your head as we go further.

[2] In his “gd” sermon, Wright was specifically referring to government actions that he considers morally objectionable.

For example, he mentioned America’s atomic bombing of Japan; apparently feels that constituted an unnecessary use of force which caused the death of thousands of innocent people. (That’s his opinion, not mine.)

[3] So let’s do the math:

(BELIEF that God punishes evil with damnation)
+
(POLICY ANALYSIS that the American government has, in its conduct of military and foreign policy, used excessive force that resulted in unnecessary and morally unconscionable levels of collateral damage/deaths of innocent people)
+
(RHETORICAL DEVICE that “US government” and “America” are synonymous)
=
(gd America… after all the context has been stripped away).

[4] Note that, none of this is about white people.

I have to stress this, with emphasis: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU, it’s not an attack on you as a white person. It’s about social institutions, and social injustice.

Your personalization of this as an attack on you as a white person is so far past the point, it’s ridiculous. I don’t mean to be harsh, I’m just using the starkest terms to describe what is and what isn’t happening here.

The “problem” is that in his sermon, “US government” = “America.” You are taking the word “America” to mean “you” as an American (or a white American). Stuff is getting lost in translation here.

[5] This is not to say Wright’s critique of government policy is fair or accurate, or to defend his use of words. I’m just trying to explain the context for his comments.

[6] The bottom line is, this was not hate speech. This was about a man showing righteous indignation at morally reprehensible acts of the US government, using the most incendiary language possible… language whose heat was incalculably magnified when stripped down to a five second bite.

[7] Finally, it is worth noting that Rev. Wright has also railed against the behavior of aspects of the African American community as well.

Perhaps it would have assuaged your sense of fairness to see Wright complain about fathers, or upper class blacks who don’t look out for lower class blacks, for example. But you never saw that… that’s just not newsworthy.

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