When I learned that the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah Wright was going to give a speech at
The grand daughter had overheard conversations at school in which media reports were said to have described a parting of ways between Obama and Rev. Dr. Wright. In fact the question I had prepared for Rev. Dr. Wright had been prompted by a March 6th 2007 New York Times report in which Barack Obama had reportedly picked up the phone and disinvited Rev. Dr. Wright from Obama’s February 10th 2007 launch of his presidential campaign. Obama was said to have told Rev. Dr. Wright that it would be advisable if he were not to show up at the launch.
The hue and cry that arose from the mainstream corporate media’s attention on the sermons of Rev. Dr. Wright appears to have died down, and the same media has reported that Obama appears to have weathered the storm with his ship more or less intact. But Obama’s campaign also carries hopes and aspirations about the image of Pan-Africa, aspirations captured in Paul Tiyambe Zeleza’s February 21st article on The Zeleza Post. Thus almost a month after Obama’s public denunciation of Rev. Dr. Wright, it might be time to ask whether the challenge that Obama threw to the American populace about a frank discourse on race has been taken up or not. In denouncing his former pastor in the realpolitik terms he did, Obama was forced to sacrifice a part of his intellectual ideology in order to curry favor with a mainstream white
That Obama had to make the denunciations he did also characterizes the stubborn refusal in mainstream white America to engage with the painful discourse on the repercussions of US foreign policy, an exercise described as curiously absent especially amongst US peace educators, in a new book by Carl Mirra, a former marine and First Gulf War veteran, now associate professor at Adelphi University in New York. As we learn from Bill Fletcher Jr.’s and Manning Marable’s recent speeches at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in the African American PeaceMakers as Agents For Change series, mainstream white America’s refusal to engage with the painful aspects of US foreign policy goes back to the days of African American peace leaders such as WEB DuBois, through to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Further to that, the whole episode of the anger expressed against Rev. Dr. Wright also puts the spotlight on the schizophrenic contradiction between
The March 6th 2007 NYT report had seemed credible to me, seeing how Obama was shirking any talk of race and black people’s issues in the campaign. It was also disappointing; a sad, sobering parting of ways with a man Obama describes in such a profound, touching way in his autobiography Dreams from my Father. It was a confirmation of how to become a credible black presidential candidate with the majority white voters in American, one has to make a break with the facts and truths of the majority of black Americans’ perspectives of their lives in
But in his luncheon talk at
On one hand, the speech Obama gave in
The more authentic parts of Obama’s speech would appear to be the exhortations he made about the need for mainstream America to make the effort to understand the reality of life for black Americans. Said Obama: “. . . the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed.” He added, in a rare moment that marked a remarkable coming to terms with an issue he had hitherto put great effort into avoiding, at least on the campaign trail, that the concerns of black people in
But Obama still had to appear to keep standing on mainstream ground so as to appeal to the white majority votes he can not do without. And he seized the opportunity to tell the truth about the indicators that demonstrate the depth of the experience of black America: wealth and income gap between black and white; concentrated pockets of poverty in urban and rural communities; a lack of economic opportunity among black men; the lack of basic services in urban black neighborhoods. Starkly missing was the stunning statistic that there are about 900,000 African Americans in prison, while there about 600,000 in college, figures presented by Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. in Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s PBS TV series African American Lives.
The reaction to Obama’s speech was unprecedented. Getting online on the evening of March 20th from Dowa district in
But unlike the discussion on the four listservs, which was earnest and eager in accepting Obama’s exhortation, the mainstream media has been obsessed with relegating Pastor Dr. Wright to the fringes of incoherent radicalism. In the days following the speech, with the exception of the New York Times which demonstrated some rare open-mindedness, the mainstream corporate media revealed a deep-seated denial of the existence of the anger that Obama acknowledged. Instead, some in the mainstream media sought to further isolate Rev. Dr. Wright and paint him as a rabid radical who could only be touched with a nine foot pole. The attempt was to marginalize Dr. Wright as unrepresentative of any constituent of American society, expressing amazement that Obama associated with him for a whole twenty years. Such sentiments came from the Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ward writing in the print edition of the Financial Times of London (March 22/23), Daniel Nasaw and Ewen MacAskill in the print edition of The Guardian of London (March 22), and an editorial in the Europe print edition of The Wall Street Journal (March 20-24).
The Guardian article reported that white voters in
Tim Wise expressed it sharply and squarely in an article originally published in Lip Magazine, and widely distributed on various websites. Wise, a deeply thoughtful and prolific anti-racist campaigner, exposed the inaccuracies involved in the claims that Dr. Wright said
We find it almost impossible to listen to an alternative version of reality. Indeed, what seems to bother white people more than anything, whether in the recent episode, or at any other time, is being confronted with the recognition that black people do not, by and large, see the world like we do; that black people, by and large, do not view
Amongst his examples, Wise mentioned white people’s shock when Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall refused to celebrate the 1987 bi-centennial of the constitution, arguing that most of those two hundred years had been years of “overt racism and injustice.” Wise also wrote about the disbelief amongst whites that a racist white police officer could frame a black man; white people’s shock upon learning that most black people viewed the US as a racist nation; white people getting “stunned to the point of paralysis when they learn the truth about lynchings in this country,” among numerous other “shocks.”
Thus it was that many white people (not all) were shocked to hear what Rev. Dr. Wright had to say about racism in
So what can we say about a nation that values lies more than it loves truth? A place where adherence to sincerely believed and internalized fictions allows one to rise to the highest offices in the land, and to earn the respect of millions, while a willingness to challenge those fictions and offer a more accurate counter-narrative earns one nothing but contempt, derision, indeed outright hatred?
Wise’s exhortation to his fellow white Americans will most likely go unheeded, as he himself is probably written off as being on the fringes of radicalism as well. But his understanding of black
Despite the pretensions of the presidential campaign, Obama knows who he is, probably more so than many people in this world, a truism expressed by the New York Times columnist David Brooks on the PBS Jim Lehrer News Hour program earlier this year. Not only is Obama an exceptionally gifted writer, he is a very brilliant individual, a globally conscious intellectual, and, going by his 1995 autobiography, a Pan-Africanist, Third Worldist, and global cosmopolitan at heart.
For starters, Dreams from my Father is about 450 pages long, spanning his early days in
The most persuasive evidence about Obama’s global Pan-African identity can be found in what he writes about his three months in
That had never happened before, I realized; not in
More than a Pan-Africanist, Obama also carries sharp Third World instincts, aware of and in tune with the global solidarity that unites peoples of the world colonized and exploited by Europe and
Indeed, as Vijay Prashad reminds us in his recent book, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (2006), there used to be such a thing as a Third World project, which alongside other anti-imperialist projects such as Pan-Africanism, were part of the struggles that effectively ended political colonization around the world. Obama is fully conversant with this history, but is forced to avoid it for purposes of his presidential bid.
These then are the burdens thrust upon a black presidential aspirant in the