Web Only / Views » March 28, 2008
Is Wright Right About Racism?
Since the 1960s, bigotry has undergone an aesthetic makeover. Today, the most pernicious racists do not wear pointy hoods, scream epithets and anonymously burn crosses from behind masks. They don starched suits, recite sententious bromides and stage political lynchings before television cameras. For proof, behold the mob stalking Barack Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
Wright has long delivered fiery (and occasionally outrageous) sermons, to little fanfare. Now, though, a gang of thugs is inflicting a guilt-by-association blow to Obama by excoriating his spiritual adviser for three specific declarations.
Sean Hannity, Fox News’ own George Wallace, turned a fire hose on Wright for his church’s focus. “[The church] is all about the black community,” Hannity thundered, claiming that means Wright supports “a black-separatist agenda.”
Pat Buchanan billy-clubbed Wright for saying, “God damn America.” The MSNBC commentator, who avoided the draft, implied that Wright, a former Marine, lacks sufficient loyalty to country. Out of context, Wright’s exclamation was admittedly offensive. But remember: It punctuated a speech about segregation. Buchanan, nonetheless, unleashed, deriding “black hustlers” and insisting descendants of those “brought from Africa in slave ships” owe whites a thank you. “Where is the gratitude?” he asked.
Fox’s Charles Krauthammer berated Wright for saying the 9/11 attacks were “chickens coming home to roost.” Krauthammer labeled the pronouncement “vitriolic divisiveness” despite our government acknowledging the concept of “blowback” – or retaliation – Wright was referencing. The CIA knows that when it supports foreign dictatorships, there can be blowback from radicals. While blowback is often immoral and undeserved, its existence is undisputed. Yet, Krauthammer alleged that Wright takes “satisfaction in the deaths of 3,000 innocents.”
In promoting the Wright “controversy,” most media outlets joined this mob and embraced “colorblind racism,” says Duke University’s Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, author of Racism Without Racists.
It is polite pinstriped prejudice shrouding bigotry in feigned outrage against extremism – the operative word being “feigned.” After all, John McCain solicited the endorsement of John Hagee – the pastor who called the Catholic Church “a great whore.” Similarly, according to Mother Jones, Hillary Clinton belongs to the “Fellowship” – a secretive group “dedicated to ‘spiritual war’ on behalf of Christ.” She is also friendly with Billy Graham, the reverend caught on tape spewing anti-Semitism. But while Wright’s supposed “extremism” blankets the news, McCain and Clinton’s relationships with real extremists receive scant attention.
Why is it “controversial” for one pastor to address the black community, racism and blowback, but OK for another pastor to slander an entire religion? Why is it news that one candidate knows a sometimes-impolitic clergyman, but not news that his opponent associates with an anti-Semite? Does the double standard prove the dominant culture despises a black man confronting taboos, but accepts whites spewing hate? Does the very reaction to Wright show he’s right about racism?
Clinton seems to think so. Her aides have been calling the states they believe Obama will lose their political “firewall.” That’s campaign-speak for “race wall” – one built with bricks like Pennsylvania and Indiana. These aren’t the near-purely white states where racial politics is often muted (and Obama won). They are the slightly diverse states where racial politics simmers and where the black vote is too small to offset a motivated racist vote. This race wall is now being fortified.
ABC News reports that Clinton’s campaign is “pushing the Wright story” ahead of the Pennsylvania and Indiana primaries. The crass tactic is designed to motivate the racist vote by reminding whites of Obama’s connection to the African-American community. Put another way, Clinton’s message has become simply: Obama Is Black.
Wright probably expected this brouhaha. He says our government is “controlled by rich white people” and our culture afflicted by racism. Though these statements are also deemed distasteful by the Establishment, they are truisms. You can see their veracity in the collected portraits of white millionaires commonly called the congressional photo directory. Or, just turn on your television and watch the mob continue stoking the Wright “controversy.”
Never has independent journalism mattered more. Help hold power to account: Subscribe to In These Times magazine, or make a tax-deductible donation to fund this reporting.
David Sirota, an In These Times senior editor and syndicated columnist, is a staff writer at PandoDaily and a bestselling author whose book Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything was released in 2011. Sirota, whose previous books include The Uprising and Hostile Takeover, co-hosts "The Rundown" on AM630 KHOW in Colorado. E-mail him at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.