Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wright and wrong

"Incendiary." "Racist." So what did Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright say, exactly?

Consider the following a kind of counter-fisking. I've read what he said, and you know what? I agree with most of it. I'll go further--the comments of "in the fold" white preachers who happen to support John McCain and the Republican Party are true examples of horrendous bigotry--but no one's going after them. Hypocrisy. Double standards. Racist American media and pols rush to "judge" (politically assassinate) Barack Obama because of comments that his pastor made, comments that are, in fact, pretty mild compared to the evil outpourings of the Falwells and Buchanans of this world.

Pastor Wright has delivered 5,000 sermons. Two minutes have been extracted by the Obama-haters. Here they are:

1) "The government gives them [African Americans] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

After Contragate, who can doubt that the US administration is, well, equivocal on the drug issue, depending on circumstances. Drugs are a scourge in America, especially amongst the poor. But the cynicism of the Powers That Be is truly extraordinary. A man who has seen the results of crack cocaine in his community might be forgiven--one would have thought--for being passionately angry about an administration that preaches against drugs and facilitates their circulation at the same time.

2)After September 11, 2001, Pastor Wright said: "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, 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 into our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost."

There's nothing very new here: this is standard root cause theory. One looks for compassion, of course, for the victims of this crime against humanity--but we don't know what the pastor said on that matter. As for the motivations behind it, though--who can argue against the proposition that, before 9/11, the US thought its home territory was in a different galaxy, not part of this world, a world where children die because of US sanctions, and a Secretary of State says, "We think the price is worth it." A world where civilians are routinely slaughtered, where US-led wars have killed, not thousands, but hundreds of thousands. Perhaps the pastor was not tactful. Perhaps he did not express the proper degree of sympathy for the victims of an atrocity that killed Blacks and whites indiscriminately. But was he wrong?

3) "It just came to me within the past few weeks, y'all, why so many folks are hating on Barack Obama. He doesn't fit the model. He ain't white, he ain't rich, and he ain't privileged. Hillary fits the mold. Europeans fit the mold, Giuliani fits the mold. Rich white men fit the mold. Hillary never had a cab whiz past her and not pick her up because her skin was the wrong colour. Hillary never had to worry about being pulled over in her car as a black man driving in the wrong… I am sick of Negroes who just do not get it. Hillary was not a black boy raised in a single parent home, Barack was. Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people. Hillary can never know that. Hillary ain't never been called a nigger. Hillary has never had her people defined as non-persons."

Does this paragraph really need a defence? These truths are self-evident. Anyone who argues that US politics aren't racialized is living on another planet. Of course they are. The extreme reaction to Wright's comments, dare I say it, is just another manifestation of this.

4) Bill Clinton "did the same thing to us that he did to Monica Lewinsky."

A throwaway line like this is hardly worth dealing with. It's part of the rhetorical the stock-in-trade of those, on both sides of the political spectrum, who want to comment negatively about their opposition. Big deal. Should such a comment cost Obama the presidency?

5) "In the 21st century, white America got a wake-up call after 9/11/01. White America and the Western world came to realize that people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just “disappeared” as the Great White West kept on its merry way of ignoring Black concerns. The hundreds of thousands who have been killed in Rwanda, in Angola, in Zimbabwe, in Mozambique and in Kenya are still invisible. There has been no international uproar about the thousands of Black lives lost, just about the loss of white life, American life and British life!"

Well, is this essentially true or is it not? The killing of brown people simply doesn't appear to garner the same concern in the North American public mind. One million (not hundreds of thousands) of Rwandans died--but what was the West's response? Ethnic cleansing outrages of the same kind but considerably less in scale in the former Yugoslavia warranted a multi-country offensive.

6) “The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. The government lied.”

Here the good pastor is simply retailing a hoary old piece of urban folklore still current in the Black community. It's obviously not literally true. But does the claim convey any meaning at all? Well, there was the infamous Tuskagee experiment. And the practice of experimenting on Third World people remains to this day; the anti-AIDS antiviral drug AZT was first tested on Third World women--half of them, unbeknownst to them, were given a
placebo. This grossly unethical conduct, which happened under the Clinton administration, was the subject of protest at the time. More than a thousand babies may have died because of this criminal act.

Jeremiah Wright, God help him, was essentially telling it like it is. Obama's subsequent speech, certainly, was a masterpiece of political skating, positively artistic. But, if the US campaign were not so fraught with half-thought thoughts, prejudices, knee-jerk reactions and omnipresent racism, neither he nor his pastor would have anything to apologize for. "Make it plain," Malcolm X used to tell his supporters. Now, in case we didn't know already, we have learned the cost of doing that in present-day America.

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