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Home > Editorials > Op/Ed: Wright Does Obama A Favor: Wright, the Sacrificial Lamb

Op/Ed: Wright Does Obama A Favor: Wright, the Sacrificial Lamb

Senator Barrack Obama severed his ties with Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, and quite possibly with the church, Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago, Illinois. Senator Obama after viewing news coverage and the C-Span broadcast of Rev. Wright’s presentation at the National Press Club, and with mounting media questions, opponent attacks, and topsy-turviness in the polls, Senator Obama presented his perspective, angst, and emotional vulnerability publicly which completely and without a doubt severed his ties with his former Pastor. This all culminated after weeks of video loops where Rev. Wright was seen ‘damning America,’ and proclaiming ‘the chickens have come home to roost’ to a church filled with joyous, ‘amening’ and predominantly Black people. This scene frightened much of White America, giving pause because they were shocked by the statements and wondering whether Obama was like his pastor and the church. Obama’s opponents, seeing an excellent opportunity to whittle away at the Obama campaign did so effectively raising a subtle and modified race card inferring “Is he really one of us?” The sheer will of Obama’s opponents kept the loops televised, as they dug to find new angles to a now old story every reporting day. These questions dogged the Obama campaign for weeks, nearly crippling it and diverting its attention from the campaign and the issues that the campaign needed to articulate.

The tapes of Wright broke just after he began his Sabbatical and had gone away prior to his formal retirement from Trinity United Church of Christ later in 2008. Therefore there was a natural excuse for silence on the part of Rev. Wright that allowed the story to continue on. The 'story' lacked a voice on the other side, and therefore reporters and pundits kept finding sensation with which they could easily feed the public and water the seeds of greater doubts and frame questions that had no satisfying answers.

As the story played, Senator Obama was forced to come out and make a statement. The pundits applauded his speech on ‘Race.’ They praised him for his poise, non-threatening tone, and in-depth analysis of the issues surrounding slavery, Jim Crow, and in general race in America. He assured White America that he understood their resentment because of Affirmative Action, reinforced his mixed heritage by citing his grandmother who sometimes said things that should not be repeated in racially mixed company, according to Obama. He said, “I cannot disown Rev. Wright as I cannot disown my own White grandmother” – which cemented into the public’s consciousness that Wright was indeed a racist along with Obama’s White grandmother. Whereupon one of my Black pastor friends who reside in Chicago asserted, “Wright and Obama’s grandmother were thrown under the bus by Obama!”

The Obama explanation on Wright and race were largely satisfying to his supporter and non-supporters alike. The White community was mostly reassured in that speech. No matter how young, gifted and particularly Black he did not have the edge that many Whites perceive exists in Black people. They also felt that Obama with his refined tones would not come at them with civil rights, preference programs, calls for Reparations, and would not shout out the “R” word when in heated discussions between him and White people. Obama established that he was a new kind of Black person, not a relic from the past, as represented by Rev. Wright, or those other ‘angry’ Black men that we see on the streets everyday. He was safe and many Whites again felt that ‘Maybe he is safe enough.’

The images from the Press Club illustrated just how far the Black and White communities are separated. It demonstrated the chasm that exists between Black and White perceptions. It showed just how critical and unresolved are the issues of race within the culture and the nation. Whites are afraid of “angry” Black men, and the Black man is mandated to become emasculated in order to be heard and accepted by the White nation.

However the Wright tapes were still playing in the background. After all Rev. Wright was still out of “sound-bite” and therefore the ‘story’ was unable to be tilted one way or another. The tapes played as conservative talk show hosts and commentators continued to ask whether Obama was sincere or not with his understanding of race and of implied assurances to Whites.

Onto the stage steps Rev. Wright. His appearance on Bill Moyers, a fellow member of the United Church of Christ, Wright was able to offer a reasoned and mellowed response to the questions that the White nation had about his statements. On the Bill Moyers show Rev. Wright appeared calm, intellectual, and relatively reasonable. Two days later Rev. Wright brought the keynote address to the NAACP. His presentation and dramatics were stellar. He preached an old sermon teaching that “Different Does Not Mean Deficiency.” The next morning he was to appear at the National Press Club. The event at the Press Club was sponsored by The Samuel D. Proctor Conference, a preaching and ministry seminar. Rev. Wright had been instrumental in the founding of the Proctor Conference. Indeed, many of the ministers that Rev. Wright had teaching influence over, and those who had come to know Rev. Wright through him preaching in their churches were present. It was a quite a crowd with intellectuals like Dr. Cornell West, and renowned pulpiteers like the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, former Pastor of The Riverside Church in New York City.

Rev. Wright came onto the stage with his family, security and Dr. Barbara Reynolds, commentator, Hillary Clinton supporter and teacher at Howard University School of Divinity. After the consumption of breakfast Rev. Wright rose to speak. It was Rev. Wright’s audience. Predominantly Black preachers and theologians gathered under the conference theme, “The Prophetic Witness in the African American Religious Experience,” and there was no better example in the historical context than Wright. He was welcomed with a standing ovation, and he regaled in the welcome. But who was also in the room were three rows of television cameras, and the balcony ringed with print reporters. They were mostly White, but the seated audience was predominantly Black. Rev. Wright again spoke about “Difference does not mean deficiency,” critiqued the nation’s foreign policy suggesting that terrorists attacks and estranged relationships is because we have not acted in the world justly and he cited the teaching of Jesus who calls that we “do unto others.” He said that Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam is like “E.F. Hutton, when he speaks every Black person listens, even if they disagree.” This was far more than the White reporters could deal with; particularly while a Black church audience cheered and “amen-ed” Rev. Wright on. The media wanted an apology for his perceived attacks on America, a lessening of the prophetic tone in Wright’s speaking, and the expected political fare where Minister Farrakhan is denounced. If this was not frightening enough for a largely White media and television audience, the question and answer engagement was a complete public relations disaster for Wright. Wright irritated with questions became combative with the moderator. The moderator was a White woman reporter from USA Today. Obama stated that Wright had crossed the line in his “performance.” Wright was seen as being hostile and combative with a White woman thereby causing press and commentators to come to the defense of her honor. The nation saw what they perceived as an angry Black man, unbowed, unrepentant, interacting with the church audience in the traditional “call and response” of the Black church. Many who attended the event and I spoke with after the news had played and the newspapers appeared reporting the Press Club event commented, “I was obviously at a different gathering.”

The images from the Press Club illustrated just how far the Black and White communities are separated. It demonstrated the chasm that exists between Black and White perceptions. It showed just how critical and unresolved are the issues of race within the culture and the nation. Whites are afraid of “angry” Black men, and the Black man is mandated to become emasculated in order to be heard and accepted by the White nation.

Later that same day, the Proctor Conference resumed at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Theological students, preachers, and denominational leaders from the historical Black churches came forth to lift up “affirmations” for the long and extensive ministry of Wright. In worship that evening, after a powerful sermon by the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., Father of the current pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, Rev. Wright was called forward and the preachers formed a prayer circle for Wright that both celebrated his ministry, called upon God to gird him through this storm, and for protection. Though the participants called Wright forward for one purpose, it is now apparent to me that an invisible divine spirit overrode the claims of those prayers, and unbeknown to the participants Wright was being prepared as sacrificial lamb on the altar of race politics.

Wright’s presentation had started a media firestorm, and the talk shows were calling for Obama to do something and to do it firmly and unequivocally. Obama had no choice if he was to remain a viable and considered candidate in the eyes of White America. Obama stood before the cameras and again addressed the Wright controversy, but this time with greater firmness, hurt in his voice, and pain in his eyes declared that the relationship has been seriously changed.

It was about the time that Obama was to make his live televised declaration about the deep schism between him and Wright that Wright, his family, and publicist withdrew into a guarded room at Howard University School of Divinity, where the Proctor Conference had now moved, and in crisis mode huddled, but never returned to the conference after that. The sacrifice had been made and Rev. Wright was now flayed on the altar of race and politics.

The separation of Obama and Wright signaled to White America that Obama was willing to sever relationships with aged concerns and suspicions harbored in the Black community. He therefore was able to declare in clear terms that he was not beholding to the Black community in his Presidency. This allayed fears that Obama would be a “Black” President and demonstrated to White America his trustworthiness to represent their issues. Wright in his response to the controversy surrounding him, by accident and because of unintended reaction to his responses, delivered to Obama a tremendous favor by allowing the candidate to separate himself and truly overcome race in the eyes of White America. Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright was unintentionally but certainly sacrificed on the altar of racial politics making space for Obama to state clearly and fervently ‘I am safe, and I am really one of you.’

After the separation between Obama and Wright there was a new energy to the Obama campaign, sympathy from mainline media was apparent because of his response to the Wright controversy, and there is now a new freshness that surrounds the campaign where White America is willing to hear Obama again. In the aftermath of Rev. Wright it is now apparent, at least me, that Obama’s chances of securing the nomination are greater than ever before, and his election as President is quite likely in the Fall. But this comes at the expense of another authentic leader being sacrificed on the altar of America’s racial deniability. It is a pained process for the Black community to say the least, where hopes and dreams of generations of men and women ride, but also where the price for success is so high that one has to wonder what has really been achieved when the victory is said and done.

Source: Kinetics - http://www.bcpl2007.org/in-the-news/2008/5/1/wright-does-obama-a-favor-wright-the-sacrificial-lamb.html

Tags: Barack Obama, Politics

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