Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Why Jeremiah Wright is justified in taking Barack Obama to task.

Posted in Barack Obama, politics by allisonkilkenny on April 29, 2008

Last night MSNBC (including Keith Olbermann) was all over Jeremiah Wright for going on a book tour and — gasp! — daring to criticize Barack Obama. Reading today’s hate-fueled rant on the web site, you’d think he had done something wrong. Why? Why shouldn’t the man who was publicly tossed overboard by his former parishioner return the favor?

Reading Kevin Alexander Gray’s assessment of the speech in which the Democratic candidate for president distanced himself from the man who presided over his marriage and baptized his children, I couldn’t help but conclude that Wright had been thrown under the proverbial speeding bus by Obama — who apparently decided long ago to adopt Bill Cosby’s out-of-touch, blame-the-victim rhetoric (an observation echoed by Adolph Reed, Jr., in the May issue of The Progressive).

“His political repertoire,” writes Reed, “has always included the repugnant stratagem of using connection with Black audiences in exactly the same way Bill Clinton did — i.e., getting props for both emoting with the Black crowd and talking through them to affirm a victim-blaming, ‘tough love’ message that focuses on alleged behavioral pathologies in poor Black communities.” Reed blasts Obama for going “beyond Clinton and rehears[ing] the scurrilous and ridiculous sort of narrative Bill Cosby has made famous.”

Gray pointed out in his April 2, 2008 Progressive online column:

Until the controversy broke about his ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama himself frequently played the race card — on black people.

Shortly before the Texas and Ohio primaries, Obama was speaking to a mostly black audience and said, “I know some of ya’ll, you got that cold Popeye’s out for breakfast. I know. That’s why ya’ll laughing. … You can’t do that. Children have to have proper nutrition.”

In South Carolina, he told the state Legislative Black Caucus that a good economic development plan in the black community would be “cleaning up the garbage.”

Now, if white politicians had said these things they would have been pummeled.

And even in his much-heralded speech, Obama went out of his way to criticize welfare, decry “the erosion of black families” and stress the need for black fathers to spend more time with their kids.

This Bill Cosby routine goes down well with white voters, but it further stigmatizes blacks.

Obama managed to weasel his way out of trouble a month ago by dissing his former pastor as a bitter relic of a bygone era. So who can blame Jeremiah Wright when he goes on the talk circuit to defend himself and retaliate against his betrayer? For truly, did Obama not merely use his former pastor’s church as a means of establishing ties to a community whose political backing he wanted to strengthen his career (writers at Black Agenda Report and The New Republic certainly seem to think so)?

The point here is not to criticize Barack Obama so much as it is to defend Jeremiah Wright as he gives back what he received. The danger of dismissing him as an angry, bitter old man whose message is equally ignorable lies in continuing the cycle of racism in this country, and the suppression of very real issues pertaining to U.S. foreign and domestic policy.

The fact is that not only was Wright betrayed, so too was the whole of the Black community, and the legitimate criticisms of imperialist policy that have wrought suffering and devastation upon others. We may disagree with the reverend’s delivery, but we cannot deny that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were a direct consequence of our country’s meddling in Middle Eastern affairs that resulted in mass death and political oppression in the region. Nor can we deny that our nation was built on the backs of African slaves, and the genocide of the aboriginal peoples of this continent. The indignation over Jeremiah Wright’s fiery rhetoric clouds the truths contained in his diatribes.

So let’s cut the man some slack. He may not be the sort of person we’d prefer to point out these truths, his method of delivery far too blunt for our comfort. But sometimes we need that in order to face up to unpleasant facts about ourselves and our nation’s history. We should consider that Mr. Wright may be justified in going public with his side of the story, with his criticisms.

If that happens to hurt Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, whose fault is that?

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