Race and Social Justice In America Part 2

The renarks made by Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of Trinity Church in Chicago, and one-time spiritual advisor to Barack Obama, the Democratic Presidential hopeful, have been the subject of much discussion in the media and on the Internet for weeks now. The most controversial remark has been his repeated use of the phrase “God damn Anerica.” which, in my opinion, have been taken completely out of context, both semantically and sociologically.

What bothers me the most about this controversy is not what Reverend Wright said, but how Barack Obama has scrambled frantically to distance himself from Reverend Wright. Ome of the main reasons I was so impressed with Mr. Obama as a candidate for President was that he was not your run-of-the-mill stereotypical politican – you know the type, they bend with the political wind and say things just because they believe them to be politically correct and necessary to get votes. Mr. Obama seemed to be a man with the courage of his convictions, and I still believe he is that down deep, but his reaction and comments in regard to Reverend Wright and the whole issue of racism in the United States has disappointed me greatly. He seems to be trying to distance himself from the fact that he is African-American and that beinf African-American in the USA, and especially running for the highest office in the land, has the whole history of race relations in America as its socio-historical context.

In most, if not all, of the primaries that Mr. Obama has won so far, the fact that he has been able to garner overwhelming support from African-American voters is a major contributor to those victories. The African-American community has, and rightly so, sees his as one of their own, which, on the surface at least, he, of course, is. The fact that the African-American community has rallied to support him is not any different than the Italian-American commubity rallying to support Rudy Guliani or the Catholic American support for John Kennedy. It is perfectly natural and should not be seen as anything racist, if this were not a country that still has very deep racial divisions.

But, the fact that Mr. Obama is an African-American and that the African-American community has rallied to support him in incredible numbers, has actually become somewhat of a negative factor for the Obama campaign. He has publicly stated, and I wonder if he actually believes this, that race is not an issue in this year’s election. U’m sorry to disagree, Mr. Obama, but in any election that involves an African-American, race is and will be for a long time an issue. Much as you and I might wish otherwise, it is an unavoidable fact in American society that race matters.

Which brings us to Reverend Wright, also an African-American. Being an African-American in the United States is deifferent than being an African-Brazilian, as an example. Brazilians of African descent do not have the same historical baggage that Americans of African descent do. And that historical baggage has shaped African-American culture, including African-American religious practices and institutions, even if those practices are under the auspices of a mainline religious institution, say the United Church of Christ. Reverend Wright is an ordained minister of the UCC.

Wright is a very well educated man, He holds a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s Degree in English from Howard University, a Master’s degree from the Divinity School at the Universty of Chicago [as do I], and a Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary, where he studied under Samuel Dewitt Proctor, mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, a fact of great significance in Wright’s commitment to civil rights. All this after serving in the US Marines and Navy as a corpsman for six years, earning three letters of commendation. I recommend you read ihs biography on Wikipedia to get a much better picture of who this man is. He is deserving of a great deal more respect than he has gotten from the media.

Whether or not white Americans want to admit it or not, the history of race relations in this county has severely scarred African-American culture. And, as my article the other day shows. there is still a lot of social injustice towars African-Americans in this country. As much as we like to pat ourselves on the back about the progress we’ve mande in the last fifty years – and Barack Obama’s candidacy is certainly proof of that, there is still a long road that needs to be traveled before we can claim equal justice for all, irregardless of race. This long history of social injustice has, understandably, created a deep-rooted anger and resentment in the African-American community. It expressed itself in 1968 when many African-American communities erupted in violence after the assasination of Dr. King. I suspect we would see similar, if not worse, violence should Mr. Obama meet a similar fate, a concern that runs very deep among his African-American supporters.

One of the most inflential social institutions in the African-American community for a long time has been their deep commitment to Christianity, That is somewhat surprising since Christianity was forced on them by their slave masters, Ironic as that is, it is important to remember the role of the “black” churches in the social and cultural development of African-American culture. Amd African-American clergy were at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and beyond. The most important figures of that movement were predominately clergy: Dr. Martin Luther King, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Malcolm X, and so many others. Reverend Wright is part of that tradition – very much so, indeed.

It is this commitment to social justice, and the deep-rooted anger of African-American society, that has fueled many of Reverend Wright’s sermons and speeches. And it is the refusal of the media to put his comments into that context that has led, at least partly, to the misunderstandings that have resulted. There is one other factor that has been ignored in mainline media discussions of Reverend Wright’s sermons, and that is the differences in expression between white Protestant Christianity with its strong Puritan streak, and African-American Christianity, which is much more emotional and expressive. We will take up that discussion next time. Until then, peace.

Sources and Additional Reading:

Wikipedia biography of Jeremiah Wright

Obama Seeks to Put Wright Behind Him

Wright Remains a Concern for Some Democrats


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