Jeremiah Wright for U.S. President

Wright 42

As anyone whose read MEDIA ASSASSIN, or any significant portion of my two decades-plus writing about race, might venture, I probably agree with almost everything Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, above, has said, in his oft-quoted and misquoted public statements.

I say “probably” and “almost” because I’ve not studied his words, meticulously—I’ve just listened to them—and I’ve never met a person with whom I agree on everything.

I mean that, when I hear him speak, in general, I tend to find that he is making statements I hold to be true. Nothing he says jumps out at me as “outrageous,” based on my experience. I don’t find his words extraordinary. I find them expressive, in that they speak to me and, to a certain degree, for me.

That a person does that, in a society governed through representation, is usually enough to make one seek their higher office. However, though he joked he was available for the vice-president slot on the Obama ticket, Wright is not running. Unfortunate.

Aged by the campaign?I particularly feel this way after his Bill Moyers / NAACP / National Press Club “three-peat” over this past long weekend, certainly the most unending one the Obama campaign has ever experienced, based on these pictures, right, of the preternaturally-aged senator, taken on Friday and Tuesday, respectively.

During these events, I watched Wright express his complete thoughts, as opposed to the quips on which we’ve been told to base our judgement of him, and by extension, Obama. (Just kidding about those photos, by the way.) Doing so gave me a greater appreciation for his ideas and the way he builds them, rhetorically.

If this were TV, right here is the place where many thoughtful commentators would zoom out to a wide, panoramic view of the American landscape, from space, before zooming back in to another person, in, say, North Dakota, who would then say something completely different, and opposing, about Wright. After a certain amount of this, the announcer would note Black differences from white ones, then, in a low voice, talk about the way that diverse reactions to Wright’s comments illuminate how “Blacks and whites in America see race differently.” (A thoughtful commentator, á la Moyers, would do this.)

But that white and non-white people see race differently is not remarkable, given that it is, after all, race: the force that, itself, created “white” and “non-white” classifications of people.

What is remarkable, in fact, is the degree to, and way in, which white people dominate the way race is discussed, conceived, framed, analyzed, imagined etc. The national discussion of it, now, for example, will end when enough white people get tired of it, or find it too inconvenient. This will happen despite any non-white need to move the issue forward. The language we use will work within white boundaries of normality and reality.

Errol Louis, a Black columinist with The New York Daily News, said this about Wright:

It’s hard to exaggerate how bad the actual news conference was. Wright, steeped in an honorable, fiery tradition of Bible-based social criticism, cheapened his arguments and his movement by mugging for the cameras, rolling his eyes, heaping scorn on his critics and acting as if nobody in the room was learned enough to ask him a question.

Bob Herbert, in The New York Times, described Wright as “all but swooning over the wonderfulness of himself,” and “living a narcissist’s dream.” “Smiling, cracking corny jokes, mugging it up for the big-time news media — this reverend is never going away. He’s found himself a national platform, and he’s loving it.”

Both reinforce why I’m glad I never joined the NABJ. People who object to a minister moving around a lot and, as one writer said, “clowning,” perhaps prefer Lutheranism. They certainly haven’t seen many Black sermons.

President Jimmy Carter has, though. Asked about Wright on Larry King Live, he explained

I grew up in Plains, Georgia and we have 600 people and 11 churches. And the largest and most powerful church is the Lebanon Baptist Church, which is an African-American Baptist church, so I have heard this kind of preaching all my life when we visited their church and they came to mine. What I think he’s teaching is a liberation theology and his origins… I think sermons are still shaped by the deprivation of racial discrimination that our country has felt for 100 years after the civil war.

Carter, a white man, gets closer to the heart of Wright’s appeal than either Herbert or Louis. Part of what’s so cool, what’s so satisfying, about watching Jeremiah Wright speak is seeing a Black non-entertainer / non-athlete say precisely what’s on his mind…particularly when it is, by extension, what’s on Black people’s minds.

By this, I don’t mean Barack Obama giving a speech on race so hermetic and “balanced” that you could test it with a micrometer. I’m talking about the language, thoughts, funk, and feelings of common Black folk—especially those who don’t have to frequently shield their words and thoughts because they’re occupied—physically, socially, psychically, or otherwise—by white people, on whom they depend and cannot afford to offend.

Like, to cite one example, Barack Obama. Yesterday, before directly repudiating Wright’s remarks, he said this:

I have spent my entire adult life trying to bridge the gap between different kinds of people. That’s in my DNA, trying to promote mutual understanding to insist that we all share common hopes and common dreams as Americans and as human beings. That’s who I am. That’s what I believe. That’s what this campaign has been about.

Someone has got to point out the contradiction of Obama saying this right before he distanced himself from his pastor. If his skill set, actually, is bridging “the gap between different kinds of people,” why doesn’t he “promote mutual understanding” between Wright and those who think his ideas are wrong?

The answer, of course, is simple: Obama is running a political campaign for the United States presidency, not doing therapy. His statements are political posturing, despite him dismissing this charge. They may also certainly express his values and beliefs, as he states. But the function of a campaign, basically, is converting what one believes into a political posture.

Meanwhile, Jeremiah Wright is a “free man”; as free as a Black person can be under white supremacy, that is. Because of this, his statements offend many white people, outrage some, and make others extremely uncomfortable.

However, his freedom does also, because, unlike Barack, until recently, they don’t know what he’ll do next. It also makes certain Black people nervous, as freedom always has, especially those who’ve been taught not to make sudden motions, or large, sweeping ones, around white people.

As you might have also guessed, I’m not one of those folk who regard Wright with disdain, like some do a hard drunk at a party, because he’s “messing up” Obama’s shot at the presidency.

One, my thinking is that Obama has no “right” to the presidency, or the nomination. No candidate does. If you’re running, all you have a right to is turbulence. (It’s like, in Rocky III, when Clubber Lang [Mr. T.] is asked for a fight prediction, and utters one word: “Pain.”) If Obama can’t handle Wright, how is he going to handle Ahmadinejad?

Two, you can always tell the nature of a thing by how it begins. Anyone, having seen Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, who believes that Obama is going to carry the concerns of Black people on his shoulders into the White House clearly hasn’t been paying attention to the American system of governance.

Bob Herbert said:

The question that cries out for an answer from Mr. Wright is why — if he is so passionately committed to liberating and empowering blacks — does he seem so insistent on wrecking the campaign of the only African-American ever to have had a legitimate shot at the presidency.

If Herbert had done his research, he’d have known that Wright may not share his optimism over Obama’s electability. In a March 2007 interview with Germany’s weekly, Der Spiegel, titled plainly, “Is America Too Racist for a Black President?”, the magazine asks this question about Obama:

SPIEGEL: Do you think he will be President in two years?

Wright: No. Unless Barak pulls off nationally what he was able to pull off locally, and wins the hearts and minds of people who have been perennially anti-black. Racism is so deeply engrained in this country that he could be flawless in terms of his policies. But he’s still a black man in this country, which has a sorry history in terms of how it sees African-American males. That’s my 65-year-old, jaded perception of where this country is. I was pleasantly surprised in the Senate election. I would like to be as pleasantly surprised in the presidential election.

So would I.



#1 Ray Winbush on 04.30.08 at 4:22 pm

The US ain’t *ready* for Jeremiah Wright as President because he tells the truth. Amerikkkan politics is about lying the best to the most people and getting away with it. Wright’s truth is oppositional to such a mentality…

#2 The Spaniard on 05.01.08 at 6:45 am


#3 craigstarr on 05.01.08 at 7:51 am

Wright on, Mr. Allen. I watched the entire National Press Club conference and was late for work because of it. It was entertaining, informative and thrilling.

#4 janflora on 05.01.08 at 10:25 am

I am a white woman raised Catholic in a southern suburb and I can see the truth in Wright’s statements, though I, too, have no way of hearing it all and seldom agree with everything anyone says. I have heard many people say similar things, white, black, green and brown, but they don’t make DVDs. I do dispute the AIDS conspiracy thing [the consensus used to be that it was created to destroy gays but the virus itself doesnt seem to have any prejudices or preferences]
It’s apparent to me that the media is using certain soundbites for their own agenda, tho the Reverend seems to also be using them too, for his. But that’s not new… Robertson and Falwell and their peers have been spewing bigotry, sexism and classism under the disguise of Christian nametags for decades. there are too many examples to list, but regardless, why can’t the media maintain the separation of church and state? I happen to be a clinton supporter at this point, but I am just as excited about voting for obama in november… i hope the assault on the campaign process does not divide the democratic party so much that it causes another supreme court election.
I think one of the bonuses of this campaign is that the dialogue has truly begun and even people who have lived in delusion are learning about the many facets of American society.

btw… the pic showing obama’s stressful aging process is not real… it’s part of a photo spread on what the candidates will look like after having the arguably most-stressful job in america. I have noticed myself [off-record] that they all go in looking ready and energetic and come out looking old and haggard.
You can see the other pix here

[Full disclosure: I am no longer catholic, nor am i southern by birth but by choice. still white. and female]

#5 Undercover Black Man on 05.01.08 at 1:18 pm

Here’s what I thought when I saw Rev. Wright showing out on Monday morning:

”Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

He might’ve tickled the radicals. But if Rev. Wright was trying to restore his reputation as a theologian and a social thinker… well, he only ended up convincing most media commentators (black as well as white) that he’s a narcissist.

#6 ShugAvery on 05.01.08 at 3:57 pm

This situation screams racial double standards. If we want to make ones pastor a campaign issue or political liability then fine. But that still leaves 2 candidates in the current race who’s pastors we know nothing about. I’ve blogged about this check me here

#7 joseph on 05.01.08 at 6:34 pm

here how i hear it. The Most Reverend Wright is an African preacher in the strong tradition of our people. He sweats just like brother James Brown. when he finishes preaching you must help him kool down, wrap a cape around him, cause he works so hard. he say, in talking bout Mr. Obama,
He be He
I be me
its just that simple: honesty,
joseph nyerere

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