During a series of public appearances which Senator Obama probably regrets, the Reverend Mr. Wright said that he hopes the controversy surrounding his relationship with Senator Obama will have a positive outcome and spark an honest dialogue about race in America. Wright says black church traditions are still "invisible" to many Americans, as they have been throughout the country's history.
I am White, and have not attended any church, White or Black, for many years. In my youth, I did attend White churches, and over the years have come to know a few Black men, most of whom might well be disparaged by other Blacks as “Oreos.” I find some of the Reverend Mr. Wright's comments offensive, and disagree with them. I find most of the Reverend Mr. Sharpton's comments offensive, and disagree with them as well. The Reverend Mr. Sharpton's recent threats to “close down” New York City because a court of law acquitted two Black policemen and one White policeman of the “racist” killing of a Black man were, to my mind, wrong. So were the resultant protests, including bystanders who yelled out "Kill the police!”.
I don't understand the Reverend Mr. Wright's anger, or that of the Reverend Mr. Sharpton. Nor do I understand the latter's great and very public anger about the alleged rape by “rich” Duke University lacrosse players of a “poor” Black stripper, or his equally great silence when the charges against the alleged perps were found completely baseless; they were declared innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, and the prosecutor who had brought and vigorously pursued the charges for his own political reasons was fired, disbarred, disgraced and forced into bankruptcy. Apparently, the Reverend Mr. Sharpton sees racism as an irrelevant factor when Whites are disadvantaged, even in the sorry circumstances of that case. Perhaps, as he walked off into the sunset, he should have mumbled that he had misspoken.
Over the years, the status of Black people in the United States has improved tremendously. Slavery was made unlawful many years ago, and no longer exists in the United States (although it persists in some parts of Africa, about which I have noticed little anger among Blacks in the United States). Racial discrimination is, for the most part, unlawful, and many Blacks hold high positions in business and in Government. Not long ago, no one in his right mind would have considered seriously the prospect of a Black Supreme Court Justice, a Black Secretary of State or, God forbid, a Black candidate who just might have a good chance of becoming President.
So, there is quite a lot about Black anger which I do not understand. I think I do understand the politically inspired parts of these things, including The Reverend Mr. Sharpton's persistent rants designed to create social unrest and get media attention; but maybe I don't even understand that.
What I certainly do not understand is the Black perspective in general, and the Black Church perspective in particular. Since I don't understand either, I shall not even attempt to comment on them. Perhaps, however, I should try to understand these things, and perhaps so should lots of other people, both Black and White.
When the United States has found herself facing people of other nations, she has often lacked sufficient understanding of their cultures, religions, and motivations. When those other nations were or became our enemies, the consequences were very bad. We thought that the Japanese were small, buck-toothed yellow people wearing thick eyeglasses whom our soldiers and marines could defeat with ease – with one arm tied behind their collective backs. We were wrong. They put up one hell of a fight, and were hard to defeat; we needed ultimately to drop two atomic bombs. We thought that the North Koreans would never invade South Korea, and that if they did, they could be shoved back north quickly and with hardly any effort; we thought that the Chinese would never come to their assistance. We were wrong. We thought that the peasants of Vietnam cared more about achieving Western style democracy or at least defending against the scourge of Communism than filling their bellies and surviving for another day. We were wrong. We suffered the consequences. Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran et al are of such recent consequence that they need not be elaborated upon. I think the point is about as clear as I can make it.
If we continuously get into trouble because we don't understand the minds, cultures and religions of people of other countries, isn't it worse when we (White folks) don't understand the minds and cultures of substantial numbers of citizens of our own country – or they (Black folks) ours? They are not off in some distant land an ocean or two away; they are right here, in the United States. In saying that we need an “honest dialogue about race in America,” I think the Reverend Wright is absolutely correct. Achieving a dialogue (by definition a two way communication) about race will be very difficult, making it honest will be harder, making it productive will be even more difficult, and lots of anger will be created in the process. The Reverend Mr. Wright has already generated lots of anger, which most of us would rather he had not; we are reasonably happy, and would prefer not to be disturbed. It might even make us bitter. The Reverend Mr. Wright claimed that the reality of the Black church is invisible to Whites, and asserted that “the reality of the African-American church will no longer be invisible."
This is also a message which Senator Obama seems to be trying to get out, without offending too many Whites. He has offended many, and I gather that he has also offended the Reverend Mr. Wright in the process. However, Senator Obama does proclaim that we have a race problem, which can't simply be swept under the rug or fixed by affirmative action programs, magnet schools, metal detectors and policemen in schools, or other such palliatives. That is a concept I don't recall hearing previously from a major candidate for nomination to the Presidency.
Become angry with Senator Obama, the Reverends Wright, Sharpton, et al. I certainly do. But while we are angry, perhaps we can think about why we are so angry, and why they are as well. In An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish, Bertrand Russell wrote,
If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do. If someone maintains that two and two are five, or that Iceland is on the equator, you feel pity rather than anger. . . . The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. . . . [W]henever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, . . you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants.
Maybe we White people who are so angry with the views of the Reverend Mr. Wright and his colleagues are wholly or partially at fault, and maybe we aren't. But we all need to consider the nature of the problem. The Blacks who are so angry need to do so as well; perhaps all of their problems are solely the fault of White people, but perhaps many of them are not; perhaps some of the frustrations which produce their anger are misdirected. I have not heard Senator Obama say much about the latter point, or the Reverend Mr. Wright say anything, and would very much like to hear both do so. Perhaps I haven't been listening well enough. Be that as it may, until we all honestly and thoughtfully consider these things, the race situation will not get any better.