When Barack Obama first announced he was running for President of the United States, I, like many African-American south-side Chicagoans had one immediate thought:
“What’s he gonna do about Reverend Wright?”
Now you may surprised that this was my knee-jerk reaction, but anyone who is familiar with the dynamic ministry that is Trinity United Church of Christ and its fiery pastor know enough to think immediately this would be a problem. And no, not because Jeremiah Wright is a “hate-filled”, “un-patriotic”, “wacko,” but because he truly does live by the church’s motto; “unashamedly Christian, unapologetically Black.” And let’s face it, Barack Obama’s entire candidacy was contingent on the notion, that though yes, he is a Black man, he’s a “mainstream,” Black man, you know the post-racial candidate. Kind of like the Tiger Woods of politics.
So, we Chicagoans wondered and waited to see, when and if we would be placed between Barackand the Wright place. Today we wait no longer, the time has come.
I didn’t spend my entire youth in Trinity, but I did attend frequently for some of my teen years, and had many friends who were consistent members. To be honest, I pretty much loved going to church there. They had great music, tons of kids programs, and I really enjoyed the sermons of Pastor Wright. I was always quite displeased my parents wouldn’t officially join, but my father like many Black people, is not a fan of politics in the pulpit. Still we frequently attended many Sunday services, youth revivals and gospel concerts. My friends were ushers, and junior deacons. Trinity despite its massive congregation always felt like family, always felt like home.
Yesterday, when watching Reverend Wright on the podium, I couldn’t help but chuckle. That’s the Jeremiah I know, and lets be real the same one Barack knows. And as I held my breath waiting to see what would transpire, I saw Jeremiah, indignant, unashamedly Black, unapologetically Christian. I cannot lie, at first I felt conflicted. Truly I’ve agonized for months over Barack winning this nomination and I hate to see Wright’s antics mess that up. But after a few moments, I realized I wasn’t mad at Reverend Wright. I knew many people would be, but I was not.
Reverend Wright said things yesterday that Black people say and think all the time. We think them on Sunday in church, on Saturday in the barbershop. In no way would I suggest that all Black people think the same, but many of us can relate all too easily with Reverend Wright, it’s why there are 9000 members in his church. He allows us to express our anger, our hurt and our hope, and he makes no apologies for the fact, that African-Americans see this country different that White-Americans. But that does not mean that we are un-American. So after weeks of silence, when a battered, hurt and angered Jeremiah finally stood up and gave the US media the equivalent of a rhetorical middle finger. To be honest, I was just surprised it took him as long as he did.
Now you may ask, why now? That’s a question I don’t know if anyone really has the answer to, but to me may not be a question that really matters. Let’s face it, this whole “Reverend Wrightcontroversy,” is really just the vehicle through which race was entered in to this election. One way or another Barack was going to be Black. Wright is just the easy way to do it. This isn’t about Wright being crazy, clearly he’s not. This is about Barack Obama identifying with the Black community, it’s about him not being the great “post-racial” hope. No longer can it be said that because of his diverse ethnic background somehow being “beyond race,” for we as black people, know there is no such thing as being beyond race.
But the mainstream would like say that Barack’s candidacy symbolizes our move in to a “raceless” society. A society where it’s easy to say to Black people who will continue to face the racial injustices, “quit your moaning, there’s a Black President, race is no longer a factor.” One that will continue to acquit the murders of our Black men and claim that race has nothing to do with it. One that will reinforce the notion that Black people must continue to endure in silence, because White America gets a little uncomfortable when you start speaking up about things. So as I watched Reverend Wright up there yesterday I wasn’t mad at him. No, I don’t agree with everything he said word for word, but on a whole, he mostly spoke the truth. And it does my heart more good to see a Black man stand up and speak the truth, than to see a post-racial man appease the masses.
Today Barack denounced his pastor. And in his defense, he didn’t really have a choice. This whole controversy was a trap, and Barack had no option but to turn his back to Wright. After all, just like Wright said, he is a politician and votes are at stake here. Ironically, lest we forget, that when this Obama campain first started, many in the Black community held back from Obama, asking the question is he Black enough? It was partly his relationship with the south-side of the Chicago, and the black church called Trinity (and of course the support of White voters in Iowa) that affirmed so many of us who had those doubts. Today in order to continue his quest to become the highest officer in our nation he was asked to denounce that church. It deeply hurt and saddened my heart to watch him do it. But as I can’t be mad at Jeremiah, neither can I be mad at Barack.
I have so much love for Barack Obama, I am without a doubt glad to be young and living through his candidacy and want nothing more than for him to be president, but I also love Jeremiah Wright. These two men represent the best of what the Black community has to offer. We should not feel the need to differentiate them from each other, for if nothing they represent the relationships between fathers and sons, the past and the future, neither one with all the answers, but both with the burning passion and desire to affect change. Today the media, Clintons and GOP, want you to believe you are in between Barack and the Wright place. I challenge you to realize there is no such thing. The space between them is our continued support for them both. It should be filled by our willingness to embrace the diversity of our community and our experience. It should be a choice to love ourselves more than we love winning the race.