Back in January when I decided to endorse Barack Obama on this site and, more importantly, vote for him in the California primary- I was thrilled about Obama’s message but I also had some pride and some of my natural cynicism was lessened by the thought that this country had matured enough that it might have been able to bridge the racial divide and actually elect an African American for President. Beyond the policy issues and Obama’s positions with which I agree and the innate desire that Obama has to bring people together which I find compelling; there was the possibility that the United States had made great progress towards healing our great national birth defect- racism. Now I wonder if that is possible.
Between “Bitter-gate” and “Wright-gate”, Obama’s campaign is reeling. In my pieces: Pandering v. Nuance aka Clinton v. Obama and Obama Elitist? Not! McCain and Clinton are the essence of the Power Elite I have made it clear that my belief about the genesis of both of these campaign issues.
Obama clearly does not come from an elite background and while his words might have been better chosen I think it is true that the Republicans get lower middle class folks with no college education to vote against their economic interest by focusing on wedge issues such as abortion, gun control, gay marriage and immigration. I’ll state it starkly- the Republican party favors the über-wealthy and multinational corporations taking jobs out of the US and doesn’t give a damn about the average American. In order to get elected the Republicans trot out the golden oldies- God, guns and fear. Obama wasn’t being an elitist- he was being honest about a truth most folks don’t want to admit because they would have to admit that they had been duped. Why else would there still be a high percentage of Americans believing that Sadaam Hussein had something to do with 9/11? Simple- Americans get duped but don’t like to admit it.
It also seems obvious to me that many folks are judging the relationship between Reverend Wright and Senator Obama. I wouldn’t dare to judge the complications between a man and his pastor- the man who brought him to Jesus Christ. Like family- these relationships are complex. In today’s New York Times there was an article that outlined the difficulty that Obama had in severing his ties with Reverend Wright. I won’t reiterate what I wrote in my piece yesterday on this subject. Suffice it to say here that I fervently believe that when Reverend Wright is pointed to as an example of bad judgment that would portend how Obama would make decisions in the White House it is the wrong analogy and it doesn’t consider the complicated and personal nature of faith, pastor, congregant and church.
But why are these two stories sticking to Mr. Obama like glue? I think my cynical nature about the American people has returned- the reason these stories are sticking is race.
Obama’s background is not elite- but he has had the temerity to be an uppity Negro and hasn’t waited his turn.
And the racism inherent in the criticism about Obama and Wright is so obvious it would be humorous if it weren’t so profoundly sad.
First- there are Falwell and Robertson:
In an interview that took place on September 13, 2001 Jerry Falwell said God may have allowed what the nation deserved because of moral decay and said Americans should have an attitude of repentance before God and asking for God’s protection. He specifically listed the ACLU, abortionists, feminists, gays, and the People for the American way as sharing in the blame. Pat Robertson responded with agreement.
Here is the exact transcript of that interview:
Falwell said, “What we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.”
Robertson replied,”Well, Jerry, that’s my feeling. I think we’ve just seen the antechamber to terror, we haven’t begun to see what they can do to the major population.”
Falwell said, “The ACLU has got to take a lot of blame for this. And I know I’ll hear from them for this, but throwing God…successfully with the help of the federal court system…throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools, the abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked and when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad…I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America…I point the thing in their face and say you helped this happen.”
Robertson said, “I totally concur, and the problem is we’ve adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government, and so we’re responsible as a free society for what the top people do, and the top people, of course, is the court system.”
So I guess that it is okay to say that the United States brought 9/11 on because of perceived immorality (as defined by Falwell and Robertson) but it is not okay to blame it on our foreign policies? Falwell and Robertson have been given a pass recently on the 9/11 remarks.
Second- there is Billy Graham
Rev. Billy Graham openly voiced a belief that Jews control the American media, calling it a “stranglehold” during a 1972 conversation with President Richard Nixon, according to a tape of the Oval Office meeting released in 2002 by the National Archives.
“This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain,” the nation’s best-known preacher declared as he agreed with a stream of bigoted Nixon comments about Jews and their perceived influence in American life. “You believe that?” Nixon says after the “stranglehold” comment. “Yes, sir,” Graham says.
“Oh, boy,” replies Nixon. “So do I. I can’t ever say that but I believe it.”
“No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something,” Graham replies.
Later, Graham mentions that he has friends in the media who are Jewish, saying they “swarm around me and are friendly to me.” But, he confides to Nixon, “They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country.”
Where is the outrage about the “Pastor to the Presidents” blatant anti-Semitism?
And finally- there is Pastor John Hagee
Reverend Hagee -a man whose support John McCain sought and received- has called the Roman Catholic Church the “Great Whore” and who said New Orleans brought Katrina upon itself because it was going to have a gay pride event.
All of these men of the cloth have made horrendous and offensive remarks, but the only one getting play is Reverend Wright. Where is the outrage about the remarks of Falwell, Robertson, Graham and Hagee?
I’ve scratched my head and the only answer I can come up with is race. Those men are white. Reverend Wright preaches a brand of religion that is a black liberation theology. This is a tradition that has long existed. True- Wright’s comments were out of line and bombastic, but so were Hagee’s Robertson’s and Falwell’s. Graham’s anti-Semitic sentiments were are all the more odious because they were not public comments or meant ever to be heard by the public. Wright was speaking in a style that was already alien and therefore easier to ellicit outrage.
So Elitist-gate can be translated into the stark terms of a black man getting to big for his britches. And Wright-gate can capitalize on the most segregated hour in the country 11 AM on Sunday.
Race is a constant in our society. I certainly am not naïve enough to believe that an Obama presidency would magically erase the profound impact of race in American life, but I have believed that an Obama presidency would go a long way towards healing the rift.
I have consciously questioned how race affects my thinking and emotions. Do I get a little more cautious if I see a young black man walking in my direction on a sidewalk at night? – sadly I admit I do. When I meet someone what is the first thing I see- it is the color of their skin. My automatic response as an American is to view the world and society through the lens of race. I have to consciously hold back that automatic response because I know that this view is inherently unfair and wrong- but ingrained into the American psyche.
I have a dear group of friends- mostly women who are conservative Reaganites and I love these women dearly- but I fear that many of them have been swayed by wedge issues- such as immigration and most of them have been convinced to vote these issues as opposed to their economic interest.
Among this group of friends the anti-immigrant sentiment is palpable and I hate to admit it; but the prejudice inherent in the sentiment is obvious. Often times the email strings among my dear friends, which start off about some information (often misinformation) about immigration, devolve into ugly comments about phone trees that offer Spanish, about “English only” and only believing anti-immigrant propoganda even when faced with evidence to the contrary. I’m sure that if you put a Latino who is a citizen and a white person who is here on an expired visa next to one another and ask my friends to identify the person in the US “illegally”, these well meaning friends would identify the Latino as the “illegal” every time.
What is most concerning about my friends’ views is that they are prejudiced without the consciousness of being prejudiced. It’s about illegal immigration, not about race or ethnicity and there is no admission that the underlying sentiment is prejudiced. Actually my friends would be offended if I told them that their comments are, in my estimation, prejudiced. Americans see life through a racial lens- the key towards racial and ethinic equality is for all Americans to admit this world view is part of our history and we need to acknowledge it before we are able to change it.
“Bitter-gate” and “Wright-gate” have given the American people exactly what they need- a reason not to vote for the black candidate without the guilt of acknowledging that race entered into their choice. Both of the scenarios that have evolved around Obama’s candidacy have racism at their core and they allow folks to feel comfortable in their racism. It’s all neat and tidy.
Years ago the term “The Bradley Effect” was coined by researchers who study polling data after a black candidate, the former Mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley, lost his bid to be California’s governor but the polling showed him ahead. In essence the Bradley effect is the skewing of polling data because people do not want to admit their vote against an African American. While racism prevails throughout our society, the worst name you can call someone is a racist (I guess there are a few that still proudly display their racism unapologetically).
The recent news coverage of the Wright episode and Senator Obama’s “elitist” remarks has given Americans cover and we can blithely go on our racist way without admitting our racist tendencies without having to look carefully at the issues or ourselves. I still have hope that we have become a more enlightened electorate, but I am increasingly wondering if I that hope is naïve.