Jeremiah Wright in context.
March 26, 2008 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Jeremiah Wright in context.

More videos available from Trinity UCC via YouTube.

Those provide the fuller contexts of the sermons. But to really understand what's going on, you need to know about James Cone, who is an enormous influence on Dr. Wright. He was and is a pioneer of black liberation theology:
A good place to start: Dialogue on Black Theology.
An interview with James Cone.
Cone on Bill Moyers' Journal.
Another interview with Cone.
Cone's faculty page at Union Theological Seminary, NY.

From other scholars:
An Investigation of Black Liberation Theology.--article by Wayne House, professor of Biblical Studies.
A Black Theology of Liberation--lecture notes from Church Historian Terry Matthews.
posted by Pater Aletheias (110 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
and Jay from Ill Doctrine.
posted by boo_radley at 10:46 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


A statement (full PDF version) from Dean Snyder, the senior minister at The Foundry United Methodist Church in DC:

"The Reverend Jeremiah Wright is an outstanding church leader whom I have heard speak a number of times. He has served for decades as a profound voice for justice and inclusion in our society. To evaluate his dynamic ministry on the basis of two or three sound bites does a grave injustice to Dr. Wright, the members of his congregation, and the African-American church which has been the spiritual refuge of a people that has suffered from discrimination, disadvantage, and violence. Dr. Wright, a member of an integrated denomination, has been an agent of racial reconciliation while proclaiming perceptions and truths uncomfortable for some white people to hear. Those of us who are white Americans would do well to listen carefully to Dr. Wright rather than to use a few of his quotes to polarize."

The Foundry is, incidentally, Senator Clinton's old church.

See also: Governor Huckabee defends Wright on MSNBC

Also: Rev. Wright responds to perceived unfair coverage of him in the New York Times (PDF)
posted by Rhaomi at 10:46 AM on March 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


Personally, I'm all for a Presidential candidate that is an America(-in-it's-current-form)-hating radical.
posted by DU at 10:51 AM on March 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


(Regular-text version of Wright's letter for the PDF-haters)
posted by Rhaomi at 10:52 AM on March 26, 2008


Thanks for this.
posted by dismas at 10:52 AM on March 26, 2008


Reverend Wright would do well to be honest: he uses Cone's sophisticated, nuanced, well-thought-out theology as a jumping off point for his own slanted, attention getting sermonizing. The underpinning of Black Liberation Theology was to craft a relationship with God and with the Church outside of white religious dogma.

Whatever Wright started out to be, the spotlight gained from his Obama association has changed him for the worse.

I've had the privilege of hearing Cone speak in person--there is no way anyone would confuse him with Reverend Wright.
posted by gsh at 10:55 AM on March 26, 2008


Huzzah! I was thinking about putting something like this together but you've done an incredible job, mon pere.

I've been to services at Trinity on a number of occasions and heard both Rev. Wright and the new minister, Rev. Moss.

Here's a good write-up on Trinity from our denominational headquarters in Cleveland.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:55 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hey! Hillary! Remember that time that your husband was all loving on The Million Man March and had nothing but praise and good things to say about the guy that was running it? Remember that guy? Remember how you demanded that Obama denounce that same guy during that debate? I wonder if there are any fun sound bites of your husband praising that guy?

What was his name? Farrakhan?

Because, you know, if your husband is a supporter of somebody who you've denounced as racist then it only stands to reason that your husband is racist. And if your husband is racist, well, you've chosen to stay with him, so I guess that pretty much makes you a racist, too.

Just trying to use the same logic as "Wright is racist so Obama must be, too."

I bet there's some great clips out there of Bill talking about what a great human Farrakhan is. I remember him saying it.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:56 AM on March 26, 2008 [8 favorites]


DU: Personally, I'm all for a Presidential candidate that is an America(-in-it's-current-form)-hating radical.

You just can't seem to refrain from commenting, can you? Just once?
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:56 AM on March 26, 2008


Stellar post. I didn't have the balls to do this, glad you did.
posted by dawson at 11:05 AM on March 26, 2008


Also, while we're at it Hillary has some repulsive connections of her own, though I confess hers are rich and white instead of poor and black.

Then there's the whole thing about McCain and John Hagee who, among other things, believes that Katrina was caused by God because of homosexuality and that the Catholics are evil and that we should support Israel and turmoil in the middle east to hasten the Apocalypse.

Look, I'm not honestly saying that Clinton or McCain should be pilloried for people they associate with. I'm just saying that if folks are going to go after Obama for it, we need to go after all three of them for it.

Going after Wright and ignoring the questionable associates and supporters of McCain and Clinton makes it seem like this is really about "Oh! Scary black man! Fear Fear!"
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:11 AM on March 26, 2008


I hadn't really heard of the scandal with Rev. Wright until Obama's speech. Wanting to see what unpardonable statements Wright had made, I found these videos on YouTube. I really don't see what people--other than reactionary TV and radio anchors, whose job it is to be outraged--find so offensive. Certainly many others have criticised American military interventionism, and pointed to it as the reason the U.S. it a target of terrorism? And who would deny that racism in America is still strong? The only "out-of-bounds" thing I've seen so far is the claim that AIDS was intentionally spread by whites in order to target blacks. Am I missing something? What other absurd claims has he made?
posted by Sar HaPanim at 11:12 AM on March 26, 2008


The Foundry is, incidentally, Senator Clinton's old church.

BTW --- in the context of her statements about Obama's membership in the Trinity UCC it's fair to note that Hillary "has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the "Fellowship," (aka The Family) * for the past 15-years. "Is she triangulating—or living her faith?"

"Obama has given a beautiful speech on race and his affiliation with the Trinity United Church of Christ. Now it's up to Clinton to explain - or, better yet, renounce - her long-standing connection with the fascist-leaning Family." *

An exposé on the group, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, by Jeff Sharlet will be published in May. From the book jacket:
“They are ‘the Family’—fundamentalism’s avant-garde, waging spiritual war in the halls of American power and around the globe. They consider themselves the ‘new chosen,’ congressmen, generals, and foreign dictators who meet in confidential ‘cells,’ to pray and plan for a ‘leadership led by God,’ to be won not by force but through ‘quiet diplomacy.’ Their base is a leafy estate overlooking the Potomac in Arlington, Virginia, and Jeff Sharlet is the only journalist to have written from inside its walls.

The Family is about the other half of American fundamentalist power—not its angry masses, but its sophisticated elites. Sharlet follows the story back to Abraham Vereide, an immigrant preacher who in 1935 organized a small group of businessmen sympathetic to European fascism, fusing the Far Right with his own polite but authoritarian faith. From that core, Vereide built an international network of fundamentalists who spoke the language of establishment power, a ‘family’ that thrives to this day. In public, they host prayer breakfasts; in private they preach a gospel of ‘biblical capitalism,’ military might, and American empire. Citing Hitler, Lenin, and Mao, Doug Coe, the Family’s current leader, declares, ‘We work with power where we can, build new power where we can’t.’

Sharlet’s discoveries dramatically challenge conventional wisdom about American fundamentalism, revealing its crucial role in the unraveling of the New Deal, the waging of the Cold War, and the no-holds-barred economics of globalization. The question Sharlet believes we must ask is not ‘What do fundamentalists want?’ but ‘What have they already done?’”
posted by ericb at 11:12 AM on March 26, 2008 [13 favorites]


I didn't have the balls to do this, glad you did.

It's a shame that it seems to take some kind of courage to point to the larger context of someone's controversial statements, but I know what you mean and I appreciate the compliment.

Sometimes my approach to Christianity seems really simple-minded. It seems to me that loving your neighbor must include not jerking their statements out of context and making them look like something other than they are. Not that I would have phrased everything the way that Pastor Wright has, but I am essentially sympathetic to what he is doing, and I have to say that I like the trajectory of his thinking, even when I find him occasionally wrong on the facts.

But even if I disagreed vehemently with him, I hope I'd still be troubled by the way his sermons have been cherry-picked by the media. It's a poor kind of journalist that resists the contextualizing that should be his primary job.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:15 AM on March 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


it's a pity more people don't stop to think of why rev wright says the things he does - who knows, if they did, they might actually learn something about this country and how millions of its people actually see things

or aren't viewpoints like his admissible to the public discussion?

i don't know if i agree with him but i don't consider him to be outrageous - the insincere political hacks who are practicing some kind of mccarthyite guilt by association game are pretty pathetic - and i'm beginning to wonder what's really motivating them
posted by pyramid termite at 11:18 AM on March 26, 2008


Can we please not turn this thread into another Obama vs. Clinton battle? Pretty please? Kthx.

Also, yeah, thanks for posting this.
posted by lunit at 11:20 AM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


The shit is really going to hit the fan when people discover that not only has Obama's preacher said some pretty offensive things, but Mike Tyson, Clubber Lang, Marion Barry, and Harry Belafonte all recently stated that Applebee's new Ribs and Taters platter isn't big enough to satisfy their hunger.

What does Obama have to say for these comments? Does he really believe, like these other dangerous black men, that Applebee's does not offer reasonable portions?

America - do you really know what Barack Obama stands for? Sure he talks pretty and nice one day. But then some random black man says something different the next day. So I ask again - where does he stand on the important issues of today? And don't trot out what he says in some fancy speech. That's no indication of his true values. No, the only thing I'm interested in is hearing what Wesley Snipes and Shawn Kemp have to say.
posted by billysumday at 11:26 AM on March 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


Actually, as I think about it, this whole mess illustrates one of Cone's main points: those with power only sanction certain kinds of communication--that which maintains their power. Voices that attempt to critique the powerful are shut down. As Cone says:

“Meaningful discourse” is always language which does not threaten the powers that be.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:27 AM on March 26, 2008 [11 favorites]


Jeremiah Wright in another context.
posted by peacay at 11:31 AM on March 26, 2008


Pater Aletheias: "It's a shame that it seems to take some kind of courage to point to the larger context of someone's controversial statements, but I know what you mean and I appreciate the compliment."

I think he just meant that a run-of-the-mill Wright post would be deleted as Obamafilter. But you didn't tie him into the post directly, placed the focus firmly on the reverend and his background, and did a good job researching it all. As long as the comments don't revert into more Obama-Clinton wrangling, this post should be able to stand on its own.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:31 AM on March 26, 2008


electoral politics, especially in a heavily mediated campaign such as the American one, don't really do context. what many people who might have voted for Obama see is just an angry guy ranting like Farrakhan -- very far away from any kind of American mainstream, and that's where the votes you need are. Obama supporters may have to realize that Wright may become what Willie Horton was back in '88.

But as harsh and unfair and even racist as Hillary's people scrutiny of Obama's past looks now, I'm sure it's nothing compared to what the Republicans and their "independent" SwiftBoat-like groups have in storage if he gets nominated.


Personally, I'm all for a Presidential candidate that is an America(-in-it's-current-form)-hating radical.


This might not work with the wider electorate.
posted by matteo at 11:37 AM on March 26, 2008


This might not work with the wider electorate.

Not stated in those terms. But what else could they possibly mean when Americans say they want "change"? They mean they don't like how things are now. They mean the status quo is crap.
posted by DU at 11:42 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nicely done, Pater Aletheias.

Folks, it would be great if this thread could be more about Cone, Wright himself, and liberation theology in general, etc, and less a proxy for more election/primaries/Obama-vs-Clinton stuff. There's an epic Obama post that's still open and chock full of that kind of thing already, if you just can't contain yourselves.
posted by cortex at 11:45 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Another take:
There's Nothing Wrong with Rev. Wright.
posted by lunit at 11:49 AM on March 26, 2008


Jeremiah Wright in cortex
posted by matteo at 11:55 AM on March 26, 2008


The Foundry is, incidentally, Senator Clinton's old church.

Nope.

Growing up my family was very active at Foundry (my mother's been the head of the board for the last year). We lived just down the street. Bill Clinton came to church at least 4/5 Sundays when he was in town, with somewhat of a dip in the late nineties during the impeachment fracas. I've seen him in church probably a couple hundred times.

Hillary came only a handful of times, and I only remember her being there when Chelsea was there too.
posted by blasdelf at 11:59 AM on March 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


This post is probably preaching to the choir. The throngs of people that need to get the message are somewhere bathing in feelings, unable to even approach the idea that they've been mislead, because they are caught up in the politics of fear.
posted by cashman at 12:02 PM on March 26, 2008


Personally, I'd love to hear more here from people both with experience in black Liberation Theology and Liberation Theology in general.

I'm an atheist, but I've always had the greatest of respect for practitioners of liberation theology, because it seems to me to be the purest form of attempting to live your faith, often in defiance of what people think you "should" do. Black liberation theology, as a branch of liberation theology, has a long and distinguished history, and, like I said, I'd be intensely interested in the stories of MeFites who have been directly involved in either.
posted by scrump at 12:02 PM on March 26, 2008


I think people are just looking for a reason to be afraid of Obama.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:08 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Which one is the atheist candidate? Y'know, so I can pretend I have some kind of choice.
posted by oncogenesis at 12:10 PM on March 26, 2008 [5 favorites]


This post is probably preaching to the choir

I'm not so sure about that. Wright has been misunderstood by a lot of people, liberals and conservatives alike (Thanks, Fox News et al!). And his ideas are provocative enough that they have the potential to start the kind of real dialogue about race in this country that I think we so badly need, as long as we can move past soundbites and into the meat of what he actually said. I'm glad to see this dialogue continuing on Metafilter, as it seems to me like this community backs away from talking about race directly the same way most of America does. That this is still a topic of discussion a week after the speech is a refreshing and promising sign.
posted by lunit at 12:13 PM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think people are just looking for a reason to be afraid of Obama.

You mean reasons they can admit to publicly?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:14 PM on March 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


You mean reasons they can admit to publicly?

Yes, exactly. I regret not making that clearer.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:16 PM on March 26, 2008


Awesome post.
posted by salvia at 12:25 PM on March 26, 2008


One suspects if Senator Obama had publicly disowned Rev. Wright, there would be a spinmeister somewhere pulling something like this out to try and discredit him for that as well. Politics is lovely.
posted by WalterMitty at 12:25 PM on March 26, 2008


Also check out this quote from the story linked above from Alternet, There's Nothing Wrong With Jeremiah Wright:

[The author's churchgoing upbringing is] "typical" because something like 90 percent of all African-Americans are nominally-affiliated believers. And that's why I can say with certainty that no black person in America was shocked to hear Rev. Jeremiah Wright's "controversial" preaching and are probably more shocked at the hysterical and hypocritical manufactured controversy surrounding Wright.
posted by salvia at 12:33 PM on March 26, 2008


I didn't realize that was James Cone. I've seen him in a few different things. I can't place which productions precisely, but I'm pretty sure he's in Black history lost, stolen or strayed?, from back when Bill Cosby had some sense. Partial clip. I know at the end of that video there's some form of liberation theory being delivered to young black men. Somewhere in there, Cone delivers some really great information, angered to the point of frothing.

At the end of the video you sit in on a classroom where young black men are being tested by their black professor, for deference to authority. They're young, like 4 or 5, some look older, like 9 or 10, but the professor is talking to them like they are even older, and they really respond.

Plus one can look and listen to Bill Cosby saying things directly opposite to much of the stuff he says now. Cosby's commentary after they show the professor talking to the kids is here.

I love the library. In the spirit of the post and the idea, try to get and watch all of the video to see the context, explanations and discussions, and see what you think.
posted by cashman at 12:48 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Meh. The post is just carrying water in Senator Obama's defense. I mean, that's fine, but it's not courageous or insightful or BOTW. Personally, I don't care about the context: if somebody preaches that the government invented AIDS as part of a racist conspiracy, then that person is an idiot and probably a racist wingnut idiot. The idea that people (including Senator Obama, apparently) would bring their children to a church where that sort of nonsense is propagated as truth strikes me as irresponsible.

For all of the ink that is spilled in these pages about the importance of rationality and science, it is ridiculous that Wright is considered to be so deserving of "context" and implied nuance. Isn't this the website where we cluck our tongues at creationists and fundamentalists for trying to teach intelligent design to children in public schools?

Really. AIDS created by the government? Does anyone believe that? If not, why is it okay or excusable or explainable or whatever for Reverend Wright to claim that?
posted by Slap Factory at 12:56 PM on March 26, 2008 [5 favorites]


Because the alternative is people who claim that Jesus wants war in Iraq and to cut the minimum wage on New Orleans reconstruction jobs. For starters.
posted by salvia at 12:59 PM on March 26, 2008


The alternative to people who claim the government invented AIDS in a racist plot is people who claim that Jesus wants war in Iraq? You need to find a nice quiet episcopal church or something dude. There actually is middle ground. In fact, most of it is.
posted by Slap Factory at 1:03 PM on March 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


Any of them the nominee from a major party in the 2008 presidential election?
posted by salvia at 1:06 PM on March 26, 2008


aw, as fun as this is, lunch hour is over, so I have to drop out of the debate now
posted by salvia at 1:08 PM on March 26, 2008


Slap Factory: "Personally, I don't care about the context: if somebody preaches that the government invented AIDS as part of a racist conspiracy, then that person is an idiot and probably a racist wingnut idiot."

Slap Factory: "Really. AIDS created by the government? Does anyone believe that? If not, why is it okay or excusable or explainable or whatever for Reverend Wright to claim that?"

Not exactly. There is only one quote that supports that (mentioned at the end of the article), with no context. It also came from the same article that misrepresented the nature of the "9/11 was our chickens coming home to roost" quote, implying that they were Wright's words when he was really quoting a longer statement from a US official.

Anyway, considering history, the purported AIDS/government conspiracy claim is not as outrageous and preposterous as the media makes it out to be.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:10 PM on March 26, 2008


It's not okay for wright to make claims about the origins of AIDS, but it is explainable. It is, in fact, a common belief in some areas. I remember a black teacher of mine in my majority black highschool who made similar claims. One day he even taught an entire class on the secret racist language of malt-liquor labels. No joke. Ever notice that the bull is neutered? That the triangle of St ides is inverted? Etc. Crazy stuff. But you know what, he was a great teacher and I learned a lot from him without managing to become "reverse racist" or whatever they are calling it now.

If anything what is apparent is not Wright's racism, but how out of touch with the black community many media commentators are.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:14 PM on March 26, 2008 [5 favorites]


For all of the ink that is spilled in these pages about the importance of rationality and science, it is ridiculous that Wright is considered to be so deserving of "context" and implied nuance.

That's right, being against irrationality demands that we judge based on soundbites and dismiss mitigating circumstances and nuance. Good thinking, there! I can tell that you're someone worth listening to.

Really. AIDS created by the government? Does anyone believe that? If not, why is it okay or excusable or explainable or whatever for Reverend Wright to claim that?

It's an idiotic conspiracy theory, certainly, but I'm sure you can find any number of idiotic beliefs being held by any pastor in the country, and being preached from the pulpit of any church. That your terror of the black man incites you to such hysterics is perhaps a sign that you should be engaging in self-examination instead of, as I have noted, searching for a reason to be terrified of Obama that you are socially allowed to express.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:18 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]



If anything what is apparent is not Wright's racism, but how out of touch with the black community many media commentators are.


And some posters. These ideas have been expressed for years by people all around. Dave Chappelle had a funny bit on it which i searched for the other day but couldn't find.

In typical Chappelle language, he basically said the government was like "Hmm, this disease kills black people and gay people. Oh what shall we do. We simply must stop this disease from killing blacks and gays." Something to that effect.
posted by cashman at 1:18 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


From the second link, Psalm 137:

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.


There is a kind of visceral undercurrent in the choice of this psalm. In context, it is his reproach of a rush to vengeance in the wake of 9/11. yet I can't help reading it literally. Those who are enslaved surely would relish smashing the skulls of the children of 'Babylon', even happy. Here the reproach becomes doubly-pronged: He points directly at the people of faith, saying that also need to be aware of a desire for vengeance. That is to say, the visceral response to years of slavery and suffering. After all, even the children of God who lament their temple, that was razed 'even unto the foundation' and who were enslaved by Babylon, begin to thirst for the blood of innocents: smashing little children on the rocks.

Later, when Rev. Wright reveals God's message of self-examination as the response to the attacks in NY, we see the messages dovetail together perfectly. Our reactions to injustice must take place in the context of introspection. We must steady ourselves in the face of terrible calamity, lest we seek vengeance by destroying the innocent. By metaphor, vengeance upon the soldiers of Edom or Babylon, by bashing the skulls of toddlers.

The point is that Rev. Wright is asking for moderation, and restraint in response to injustice. Solve problems by looking within and not by seeking wanton violence, political or otherwise. This strikes me as a balanced, nuanced point of view.

If anything, I think the problem that people have is with his language. It wanders through such a broad emotional landscape and has such emotion and power, that I think people become startled.
posted by kuatto at 1:20 PM on March 26, 2008 [7 favorites]


Black Comedian Dick Gregory, from a post here on metafilter, talks about these things. Catch the whole thing on cspan if the entire thing, from Tavis' question to the end isn't shown on the C&L video.
posted by cashman at 1:21 PM on March 26, 2008


There actually is middle ground. In fact, most of it is.

But the very fact that, as a nation, we refuse to give serious listening attention to the underlying (and true) messages about inequality is preventing us from collectively reaching, and working from, that middle ground.
posted by Miko at 1:23 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


>>> the secret racist language of malt-liquor labels

Don't know about the labels, but the contents? An argument could be made about the inherent racism in malt liquor advertising and marketing. How often have you seen a Colt 45 billboard in a white suburb? I tend to agree with Chuck D ("One Million Bottlebags") on this one.

Malt liquor bull?
What it is is bullshit
Colt 45?
Another gun to the brain
Who's sellin' us pain?
In the hood another up to no good
Plan that's designed by the other man
But who drink it like water?
One and on till the stores reorder it
Brothers cry broke but they still affordin' it
Sippin' it lick drink it down oh nooo
Drinkin' poison but they don't know
It used to be wine
A dollar and a dime
Same man, drink in another time
They could be hard as hell and don't give a damn
But still be a sucker to the liquor man.


Sorry about the minor derail, but let us never assume that just because something seems ridiculous that it isn't true, or (at the very least) based on a subtler truth.
posted by grabbingsand at 1:33 PM on March 26, 2008


Meh. The post is just carrying water in Senator Obama's defense.

I hardly think it's carrying water to propose that when someone is accusing of being racist, hateful, and so forth on the basis of a few sound bites, that fair-minded people acquaint themselves with the greater context--of the sermons themselves, and the theological dialogue that underlies them. Nothing in this post is, by design, an apology (in the classic sense) for Wright, but it should, I hope, provide some of the context necessary for an informed judgment.

You seem comfortable dismissing a person's entire career on the basis on one or two foolish statements. I don't think that's a standard any of us would want imposed on ourselves.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:37 PM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Try to give me the H-I-V
so I can stop makin babies like me
And you're givin dope to my people chump
Just wait til we get over that hump"

Ice Cube.

"How we stop the Black Panthers?
Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer
You hear that? what Gil Scott was "Hearin"
When our heroes or heroines got hooked on heroin
Crack, raised the murder rate in D.C. and Maryland"

Kanye West
posted by cashman at 1:47 PM on March 26, 2008


More on topic, what Cone says about Wright:

King taught us how to be a Christian, to love everybody. And it's important. But Malcolm taught us that you can't love everybody else until you love yourself first.

And so black theology wanted to interpret the Christian gospel in such a way that black people will know that their political and social liberation is identical to the gospel and also identical to them loving themselves. That is, we are a part of God's creation.

God created us black. And because of that, that blackness is good. So in a world in which values are defined by white domination and white supremacy--in that kind of world--then God sides with those who are the victims in it.

And so black liberation theology was an attempt to make the gospel accountable to the black community, who were struggling for a more just society in America.

What you have in Jeremiah Wright is someone trying to bring together Martin and Malcolm. He's a Christian preacher in a white church, by the way. He is speaking to the hurt in the African-American community. The suffering.

posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:51 PM on March 26, 2008


dismissing a person's entire career on the basis on one or two foolish statements.

To continue that point, I don't even think they were foolish statements. One thing the context does is to show the statements' position within the arc of the sermon. Preaching is an art form with an aesthetics all its own. When you listen to the whole sermon (which in churches like this may be up to an hour long) you are taken on a rhetorical journey. It may begin with the preacher taking on the character of a complacent individual restating something considered an obvious truth. The hubris of man, self-satisfaction, is calmly pictured. Then there might the introduction of doubt, of questioning of that obvious truth, breaking down of hubris. That questioning may be elaborated on and amplified, using extreme examples and language to create a horrified emotional response to the initial simplistic thinking (the depictions of hellfire and brimstone of old, Edwards' loathsome spider being dangled above a candle flame, or even 'God bless America? God damn America!'). Eventually, the preacher will offer resolution which occurs through a more sophisticated understanding of God, including an adjusted relative positioning of man in relationship to God (humble).

Pulling a statement out of a sermon can be actually nonsensical, and can even make it seem as though the preacher is saying the opposite of what he's saying in the full piece, because sermons employ so many voices and rhetorical methods.

I couldn't say that the sermon context excuses every statement ever made by Wright, because I haven't heard every statement ever made by Wright, in context or not. But certainly, anyone with any awareness of black American churches has an ability to understand how these apparently inflammatory statements can fit into a sermon with an ultimate resolution which most people would endorse.
posted by Miko at 1:52 PM on March 26, 2008 [12 favorites]


Really. AIDS created by the government? Does anyone believe that? If not, why is it okay or excusable or explainable or whatever for Reverend Wright to claim that?

Because it's consistent with a common instinct to heap a community's ills, and accountability for their correction, largely on outsiders, scapegoats, invisible conspiracies, and supernatural forces; there's nothing more disempowering than this sort of logic, and yet, whenever it rears its head, we always see it cloaked as righteous empowerment. These very same memes were spread about crack cocaine, and helped rationalize the disastrous policy of mandatory minimums. After all, it was those other people selling to our people, right? (And, really, isn't this the universal story of drug prohibition?)

The idea that Jeremiah Wright has trenchant things to say about 2008 is as true, and in the same way, as the idea that a dinosaur fossil does. Both hold frozen impressions of an earlier place and time. In fact, his whole generation - conservatives reared on a Cold War, liberals crusading against spectres of inequality - needs to ease its deathgrip on political thought. Just a little. They're still fighting all their old battles. Limiting ourselves to their ideas, and theirs alone, will only allow us to retread the same patterns ad infinitum - Vietnam resurrected in Iraq, our drug war the shadow of other prohibitions, and so on.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:55 PM on March 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


Context is everything. Thanks for the links. Nice analysis kuatto, but most audiences are neither sophisticated enough nor patient enough. As an atheist who reacts badly to bible-quoting, I found his talks engrossing. The bigger picture is of a smart, compassionate man (given the history of oppression that underlies his speeches.) Footnote: that's some crazy little outfit the dude wears.
posted by binturong at 1:58 PM on March 26, 2008


liberals crusading against spectres of inequality

It's fucking great being white, isn't it?
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:59 PM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Meh. The post is just carrying water in Senator Obama's defense.

I don't think that contextualizing Reverend Wright equates to defending Senator Obama... quite the opposite. Given that Obama called his words "not only wrong, but divisive", and then only defended him in the most backhanded possible manner by acknowledging that "the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation" are angry and bitter. The generational reference was, I'm sure, very deliberate, as that one phrase refers both to his age (and you know how old people are, with their crazy notions), and the idea that... remember all that black power stuff? yeah, you and I know better than that.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:00 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty writes: That's right, being against irrationality demands that we judge based on soundbites and dismiss mitigating circumstances and nuance. Good thinking, there! I can tell that you're someone worth listening to.

and

It's an idiotic conspiracy theory, certainly, but I'm sure you can find any number of idiotic beliefs being held by any pastor in the country, and being preached from the pulpit of any church. That your terror of the black man incites you to such hysterics is perhaps a sign that you should be engaging in self-examination instead of, as I have noted, searching for a reason to be terrified of Obama that you are socially allowed to express.

I noted explicitly in my post that there are lots of idiotic conspiracy theories out there. What seems to distinguish our approach to the crackpots is that I don't resort to puerile sarcasm or condescension/psychobabble to defend any of them. If I were going to respond in kind I would say something like, if you love Senator Obama so much maybe you should marry him, and then I would wonder aloud about what deep-seated need prompts you to feel such an attraction to him. But I think the more important point is that there is nothing "hysterical" about being disgusted by people who preach hatred or nonsense. There seems to be an inconsistency in dismissing some flavors of unfounded conspiracies out of hand while tenderly excusing others based some criterion other than closeness to being true. Why is that wrong?
posted by Slap Factory at 2:15 PM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Because it's consistent with a common instinct to heap a community's ills, and accountability for their correction, largely on outsiders, scapegoats, invisible conspiracies, and supernatural forces

This kind of victim blaming argument is consistently used to discredit anything and everything critical of outside forces operating in a community. Like, er, institutional racism, for one. Sure, Wright said some questionable stuff about HIV/AIDS, and he probably took his skepticism of the government too far. That doesn't mean that his comments about race weren't on point, widely held by many, and something that [white] America should at least be aware of, if not listening to more actively.

People should take responsibility for their own lives. Absolutely. But merely pointing to the fact that there are very real mechanisms preventing people and whole communities from thriving does not equate itself to "heaping a community's ills...on outsiders." Self-empowerment and responsibility can and often does co-exist with a critical analysis of racism.

How exactly did "these very same memes...about crack cocaine...help rationalize the disastrous policy of mandatory minimums"? Because I've never heard anything of the sort. Can you cite, please?
posted by lunit at 2:17 PM on March 26, 2008 [6 favorites]


You seem comfortable dismissing a person's entire career on the basis on one or two foolish statements. I don't think that's a standard any of us would want imposed on ourselves.

No, I think the standard is already imposed on ourselves. That is why Imus was fired for making a dumb joke and Trent Lott was bounced as majority leader for implying asinine things about the civil rights movement. I think that on racial issues especially, the standard is pretty demanding. When a person's off-hand foolish comments reveal a lack of respect for other people based on race, gender, etc., we tend to judge that person harshly. Remember Ross Perot's "you people?" That was a foolish statement that showed that Ross Perot just didn't get it as far as racial sensitivity was concerned.

In the case of Wright, we are not even discussing off-hand remarks that may provide some insight to his views about race and society. I doubt he would agree that they were "two foolish statements." They are sermons that Wright developed and then professed to his congregation. They are statements of his belief, aren't they? Isn't that a good reason to take them seriously, to presume that they represent what he thinks?
posted by Slap Factory at 2:26 PM on March 26, 2008


There seems to be an inconsistency in dismissing some flavors of unfounded conspiracies out of hand while tenderly excusing others based some criterion other than closeness to being true. Why is that wrong?

For me, it's at least partly a question of aims and ends. Here, the end is social justice and equality of opportunity, things I believe are in accordance with the stated values of American democracy as put forth in our founding documents. For the intelligent-designers you speak of, it's often the quashing of inquiry and teaching of fact in publicly funded settings.

For the record, I've got no problem with people preaching intelligent design in their churches and study groups if that's what they feel driven to believe, as I have no problem with Wright preaching about the origin of AIDS in his church and study groups if that's what he feels driven to believe.

The only time the views of preachers become a concern is when their supporters seek to enshrine them in law or force them into public life to a degree that offends other members of the polity. I don't need to defend his views, exactly, if they don't threaten what I believe is a fair shared system of governance that treats Americans equally. But I might seek to understand them a bit better.
posted by Miko at 2:32 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Preach it!
posted by nola at 2:34 PM on March 26, 2008


if somebody preaches that the government invented AIDS as part of a racist conspiracy, then that person is an idiot and probably a racist wingnut idiot.

What is somebody like Dick Cheney that to this day still claims that Sadaam Hussein was allied with al Qaeda? Or somebody like Bush who claims that Iran has publicly announced their decision to acquire nuclear weapons. Or John McCain that claims that Shiite Iran is backing Sunni al Qaeda. Who's more of an idiot and who does more damage?

The statement about AIDS isn't that far off the wall. The government for years experimented on blacks by denying them treatment for syphilis. Reagan totally ignored the AIDS crisis for many years because he believed it only affected gays and blacks.

I don't see the outrage about anything Wright said. Whites just have a fainting spell anytime a black man raises his voice. Meanwhile they don't bat an eye over the everyday hateful declarations of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Hagee, Paisley, etc.
posted by JackFlash at 2:34 PM on March 26, 2008 [10 favorites]


They are statements of his belief, aren't they?

Can you be specific about which two statements you're talking about, and link to the video that contains them? I want to respond to this, but I'm not sure which two statements you are saying are "statements of his belief." Because, as I was saying above, not every statement within his sermons can be understood as "statements of his belief." But you might be talking about ones that are - I just want to make the distinction.
posted by Miko at 2:36 PM on March 26, 2008


The idea that people (including Senator Obama, apparently) would bring their children to a church where that sort of nonsense is propagated as truth strikes me as irresponsible.

nonsense? in church? masquerading as truth?

say it ain't so!
posted by acid freaking on the kitty at 2:43 PM on March 26, 2008


...sermons employ so many voices and rhetorical methods...

Brings to mind two instances involving the minister of the Congregational (UCC) church I attended as a kid. One Sunday he entered the church dressed as and impersonating Archie Bunker; another time as Judas. He spoke and presented himself as from their 'points-of-view' replete with their individual Weltanschauung. Heaven forbid, if any video excerpt were to be released onto YouTube. The sermons would be totally misconstrued.
posted by ericb at 2:44 PM on March 26, 2008


I don't think I've ever seen "Archie Bunker" and "Weltanschauung" in the same sentence before. And look, here I've done it again.

Back to the sermons: It is worth noting that (as pointed out above) in Wright's sermon about 9-11, the takeaway point was the need for critical examination of our own motives. The first person to declare that Wright's attitudes bear close scrutiny was Wright himself. I was also interested to see that all of the potentially inflammatory content of that sermon was in a section that Wright called a "faith footnote"--clearly information he wanted to present to the church, but that he wanted to be sure wasn't taken to be the major point of the message. And yet it's part of the footnote, and not the conclusion, that get played over and over.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:52 PM on March 26, 2008


That is why Imus was fired for making a dumb joke and Trent Lott was bounced as majority leader for implying asinine things about the civil rights movement. I think that on racial issues especially, the standard is pretty demanding.

You know, I think this is a good point.

When that Trent Lott incident went down, I wanted so badly for the nation to use it as a springboard to start talking about racism. Instead, our reaction was to say, basically, "oh look at that horrible man - how could he say/think those things?" Trent Lott said things other people were thinking and not saying, and by focusing specifically on him - scapegoating him - we missed a really valuable opportunity to get beyond the silent code surrounding racism and really start addressing it. Which is not to say that I think we should be making excuses for him, but rather that we should start demanding explanations for institutional racism from leadership in general.

My hope is that with Reverend Wright, we, as a nation, can resist doing the same thing and start talking about the issues instead of the people. Toward a much more human, nuanced, and mature debate, no?
posted by lunit at 2:59 PM on March 26, 2008


By the way, I think your links in this FPP were very well chosen. The interviews with Cone are really helpful and interesting. Even though I just reread it this year around MLK day, I had not made the connection between MLK's speech in opposition to the Viet Nam war in which he essentially said what Wright is saying: that America sometimes acts monstrously in the world.

And the viewing of the video is really essential for anyone who would condemn Wright's comments about America's chickens coming home to roost. I'm going to transcribe the relevant section here, below. I can't find anything much I disagree with here. Before typing, I'll add that the theme of the sermon is the futility of vengeance and the need for self-examination rather than laying blame at the feet of others. All of that is in the concluding few minutes, beyond the 'inflammatory' section. It's a pacifist sermon.
I asked the Lord, what should our response be in light of such an unthinkable act?

But before I share with you what the Lord showed me, I want to give you one of my little "faith footnotes." Visitors, I often give little "faith footnotes" so that our members don't lose sight of the big picture. Let me give you a little "faith footnote." Turn to your neighbor and say "faith footnote."

I heard Ambassador Peck on an interview yesterday. Did anybody else see him or hear him? He was on Fox News. This is a white man. And he was upsetting the Fox News commentators to no end. He pointed out - you seen him? - a white man, he pointed out - an ambassador! - that what Malcolm X said when he got silenced by Elijah Mohammed was in fact, true -- 'America's chickens -'

[Here the congregation begins saying "are coming home to roost, spontaneously"

..."are coming home to roost!

We took this country, by terror, away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arawat, the Comanche, the Arapaho, the Navajo. Terrorism. We took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept htem enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism. We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians, babies, non-military personnel. We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers, and killed unarmed teenagers and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hardworking fathers. We bombed Qadafi's home and killed his child. 'Blessed are they who bash your children's head against a rock." We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan, to pay back for the attack on our embassy, killed hundreds of hardworking people, mothers and fathers, who left home to go to work that day, not knowing that they'd never get back home. We bombed Hiroshima. We bombed Nagasaki. We nuked far more than the thousands in New York

-- and we never batted an eye.

Kids playing in the playground, mothers picking up chldren after school, civilians, not soldiers - people just trying to make it day by day. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought back into our own front yards.

America's chickens are coming home to roost.

Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism.

A white ambassador said that, y'all, not a black militant. Not a reverend who preaches about racism. An ambassador whose eyes are wide open, who's trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised. The ambassador said the people that we are wounding don't have the military capability that we have. But they do have individuals who are willing to die, and take thousands with him. And we need to come to grips with that.

Let me stop my faith footnote right there, and ask you to think about that over the next few weeks, if God grants us that many days. Turn back to your neighbor and say "footnote is over."

Now, now, come on back to my question to the Lord: What should our response be right now in light of such an unthinkable act?...
posted by Miko at 3:30 PM on March 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


What is some body like Dick Cheney? evil wingnut manipulator
Bush? ignorant, fiascic fool
McCain? not sure if slightly senile or lame Cheney imitator

Your whole premise is "Don't attack Wright, the other side is worse." That's the framing politicians use to justify war, torture and their own personal crimes. Don't fall for it!

Sort 'em out, and let God kill them, I say.
posted by msalt at 3:48 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


James Cone is brilliant, I've never heard of him till now. If you'll excuse me I have a few books to oder.
posted by nola at 3:54 PM on March 26, 2008


Smallpox Blankets
Tuskegee Experiment
CIA-Crack connection
Weight-based cocaine laws
Spread of AIDS in prison with no health care
Ignoring AIDS until it was too late

It's not a conspiracy, it's worse then that. But the conspiracy is the shorthand.
posted by cell divide at 4:00 PM on March 26, 2008


There are opinions, and then there are facts. It is a fact that blacks have been LEGALLY segregated as second-class citizens for most of US history. Full voting rights didn't come until 1965. It was ILLEGAL to have a marriage between a black person and white person until 1967 in 16 states. You know the rest about enforced segregation in schools, military, buses, restaurants, drinking fountains etc. About the fact that in 2000 one in three young black men were in prison or on probation or parole. In other words, when the reverend gentleman slams the US for not living up to its ideals, he has a case. He's no extremist, just a man who knows his history, which apparently many other Americans do not.
posted by binturong at 4:14 PM on March 26, 2008


And god damn, that Joe Scarburough [sic] should have to suck on the fattest dick we can find for him.

You say that like such is a bad thing/punishment! Not necessarily so, mon ami!
posted by ericb at 4:18 PM on March 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


Isn't Hillary a Methodist? Or is that conjecture like the linked article? I used my own name several years ago when I went to a service in a Methodist church. Nobody followed me out.
posted by Cranberry at 4:41 PM on March 26, 2008


Smallpox Blankets
Tuskegee Experiment
CIA-Crack connection
Weight-based cocaine laws
Spread of AIDS in prison with no health care
Ignoring AIDS until it was too late


Iran-Contra. (Machine guns going one way, cocaine coming home.)
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:01 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Slap Factory writes "They are sermons that Wright developed and then professed to his congregation. They are statements of his belief, aren't they? Isn't that a good reason to take them seriously, to presume that they represent what he thinks?"

Is Wright running for president?
posted by krinklyfig at 5:37 PM on March 26, 2008


Isn't Hillary a Methodist?

For whatever it's worth, Wright got his Doctor of Ministry degree from a Methodist seminary, United Theological.
posted by salvia at 5:39 PM on March 26, 2008


He's no extremist, just a man who knows his history, which apparently many other Americans do not.

Believe it or not, some people who know their history also believe it's extreme to say the government invented AIDS. All or nothing thinking is easy and comforting, but it's not true.
posted by msalt at 5:56 PM on March 26, 2008


You know, many times when I hear someone get worked up because someone else "hates america" -- especially when that phrase is uttered against indictments of militaristic foreign polciy -- I tend to think of Kipling's Recessional. I suspect his work that bore both ideals of the British Empire's glory and responsibilities and failings caused no small amount of controversy and wonder if he was criticized for it.

I am surprised to get the context of Wright's speech and find it matches up in places, the talk of failures and fadings of states with the talk of the judgments of God. And it seems relevant:

"Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!
...
For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard--
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard--
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord!"

Now, maybe I'm seeing what I want to see, because especially in the context of the neocon philosophy that promised a New American Century that put its trust in reeking tube and iron shard, especially in the context of an American exceptionalism that sometimes seems to be less about living up to ideals and more about frantic boast, especially in the context of a President who seems to personify "foolish word," I've felt for a while these verses are real warnings for us about the fact that even proud nations fade. From the point of view of a man who had a valuable perspective on ambitions -- both proud and vain -- of his own nation.

Maybe Kipling's expression is more palatable than Wrights, but the underlying idea shouldn't be unfamiliar. From certain segments of the Religious Right we have the idea of the U.S. as Sodom and Gomorah, and therefore needing to face the judgments of a moral God. So is it too hard to face a warning about parallels with "Nineveh and Tyre" -- whether they come from an English poet near the turn of the last century or a black preacher?

I agree that the mode of expression and cultural barrier is going to be a problem for some people -- and to some extent, I think that this not entirely their problem. I can't get on board with everything Wright is saying, and like a lot of people, he'd be more effective if, like Obama, he could learn to speak in a broader more inclusive language.

But ultimately, I think how you interpret Wright pretty much depends on if you're looking for an enemy, a bogeyman to wave in opposition to Obama's candidacy, or if you're able to view him from the perspective that Obama explains in his response speech about the matter.

And at least the full clip of the video is available to help that kind of consideration.
posted by weston at 6:03 PM on March 26, 2008


Personally, I don't care about the context: if somebody preaches that the government invented AIDS as part of a racist conspiracy, then that person is an idiot and probably a racist wingnut idiot.

It's interesting how this gets turned around so that people who claim that other people are racist must also be racist themselves. I suppose the logic in that is if you had no concept of race, then you wouldn't pick up on the use of racism. On the other hand, it's mostly just an instrument to silence and ignore anyone who claims anything is racist.

Now, I certainly think someone who claimed that AIDS was a government plot is probably pretty crazy, but I don't see how you could claim that they were racist.
posted by delmoi at 6:44 PM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


msalt writes "Believe it or not, some people who know their history also believe it's extreme to say the government invented AIDS. All or nothing thinking is easy and comforting, but it's not true."

I think that's the problem here. People are judging the man based on a couple statements taken out of context. Even taking that one statement, that conspiracy theory is not hateful and is somewhat understandable. I chalk that up to ignorance, not malice. I'm frankly far, far more concerned about the religious figures who use particular groups of people as scapegoats and actively work to keep them powerless, and who embrace the power of the state to enrich their own power rather than rail against it.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:53 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


More Obama lovefest...this is getting sad
posted by available at 7:05 PM on March 26, 2008


More Obama lovefest...this is getting sad

Oh come, now. Did you even read the thread? People are talking about Wright, not Obama.

Done feeding troll now.
posted by lunit at 7:17 PM on March 26, 2008


Slap Factory writes "if somebody preaches that the government invented AIDS as part of a racist conspiracy, then that person is an idiot and probably a racist wingnut idiot."

Absolutely!

That would be like preaching that, long after a simple and effective cure for syphilis was found, the government refused to cure it in poor black men, so that a now-superfluous study could continue. What utter nonsense.

Or like preaching that the Joint Chiefs of Staff seriously considered making false-flag terrorist attacks against US citizens, to create a pretext for war against Cuba. Utter nonsense.

Or like claiming that the US overthrew foreign governments and assassinated foreign leaders, just to increase te profits of a banana importer. That's utterly -- bananas!

Clearly, Pastor Wright should never have believed in any of these clearly fantasic conspiracy theries. Not a one of them.
posted by orthogonality at 7:51 PM on March 26, 2008 [5 favorites]


You know how you have to be born in the U.S, 35 yrs. old, blah,blah, blah,to be eligible to be president?

I wish they would add another
blah. You would also have to be an avowed atheist for the most recent 14 years of your life.
.
posted by notreally at 8:05 PM on March 26, 2008


I chose 14 for a reason. If by 21 you haven't figured things out, you are too slow to be in charge of the U.S. nookular arsenal.
posted by notreally at 8:09 PM on March 26, 2008


like a lot of people, he'd be more effective if, like Obama, he could learn to speak in a broader more inclusive language.

I loved your comment, but I'm not sure about this. How could Wright be more effective? He's grown a congregation of 5,000 based on values he believes in. He's achieving his personal mission in life. I think he's incredibly effective. After all, he's not seeking national office -he's seeking to build a healthy, vibrant, functioning urban church that unites different classes in the struggle to build a strong black Christian community. He might be more palatable to whites if he watered down his message, but I'm not sure he'd be more effective in achieving what he's setting out to do. It would be hard to be more effective without having a national television ministry.
posted by Miko at 8:51 PM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


You say that like such is a bad thing/punishment! Not necessarily so, mon ami!

Well, for a tacit homophob and racist like Scarborough (don't really give a shit how he spells it), that should be some fitting punishment. Presumably, the fattest dick we can find is a black man's. Insult to injury.

I was cringing as he spoke about "his college experience" with black students. I expected him to slip up and use some racial slur during that anecdote.
posted by jstef at 9:07 PM on March 26, 2008


Full voting rights didn't come until 1965. It was ILLEGAL to have a marriage between a black person and white person until 1967 in 16 states.

That is really quite sickening.

It's information that really should be posted in national advertising. I'll warrant the majority of white Americans do not know or have forgotten that such incredibly racist laws have existed in our adult lifetime.

We forget our history at our peril.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:05 PM on March 26, 2008


Fair enough, Miko. He is obviously effective enough inside of the scope he chose, and what I'm discussing is indeed largely his palatability outside of that.

I don't think there's any mischief in picking a localized scope to work in, and I understand that there are real factors at work that make the community Wright is part of suspicious of the larger national community that might want them to be more palatable.

But would acknowledging our nation's misdeeds, perceived and real, with a "Thy Mercy on thy people, Lord!" rather than a "God Damn America!" really handicap him inside his community?

If Obama had set his sights that direction rather than political office, would he be less effective speaking in the language he's used in his stumping, balancing between tensions?

I honestly don't know the answer to that question, I don't know the inside of the culture. Maybe someone like that wouldn't be as effective. But if not, the benefit seems so clear to me that I think it might be worthwhile even if it somehow made work inside of the community harder.
posted by weston at 11:39 PM on March 26, 2008


PG: It's fucking great being white, isn't it?

Come on. Most Americans below the poverty line happen to be white. I'm pretty sure that it's not that great to be poor.

I'm also pretty sure that the only invisible privilege these people enjoy is their near invisibility to a left wing more concerned with three-decades-old identity politics manifestos than with poverty. Unpacking Peggy McIntosh's knapsack for the umpteenth time, and contorting much larger universes to fit inside it, over and over, is not Progressive in any sense of the word. That's the intended meaning of my quoted remark.

lunit: How exactly did "these very same memes...about crack cocaine...help rationalize the disastrous policy of mandatory minimums"? Because I've never heard anything of the sort. Can you cite, please?

We could probably sit and compile a book on all the debunked memes and fables orbiting crack, but scarcely a pamphlet of all the hard science it's attracted. The sum of all this misinformation rationalizes our singular (and stupid) policy towards it. We've decided that it is Kryptonite.

The key legislation here is the 1986 Anti Drug Abuse Act (ACLU), and then the strengthening Omnibus Act of 1988, which set mandatory minimums for possession of crack cocaine, among other things.

As the ACLU article suggests, this legislation was carried forward under a cloud of moral panic, stories and oversized myths:

When reporters discovered crack in the mid-1980s, coverage of the "epidemic" soon eclipsed all other stories from inner-city America. Newsweek called crack the most significant story since Vietnam and Watergate; Time labeled it the "issue of the year" in 1986. In the period from October 1988 through October 1989, the Washington Post alone ran 1,565 crack stories. Suddenly this new form of cocaine, a drug whose addictive properties were compared to potato chips by Scientific American in 1983, was, according to Newsweek, "the most addictive drug known to man." U.S. News and World Report called the crack problem "a situation experts compare to medieval plagues" and "the number one problem we face. (Salon)

The whole Salon article is good, but here's the crux:

When it came to crack, the media escalated the panic and propelled a political arms race, in which Democrats and Republicans fought to outdo each other as anti-drug crusaders. The result was sentences for dealers and users that are longer than for rapists and even killers.

Political opportunism, rather than investigating and debunking the myths, or making a medical comparison of powder cocaine versus crack, bought the idea of crack as a demonic superdrug. The Act (and its mandatory minimum sentencing) was cosponsored and spearheaded by Charles Rangel, the erstwhile Chair of the House Narcotics Committee, not to mention a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and soon to be a household name. Other CBC members cosponsored as well, such as Louis Stokes.

Ironically, says Rangel, the White House called press conferences to announce that Congress had passed drug bills in 1986 and 1988, even thought it was the Rangel legislation it had fought from conception to passage (here)

(You get the picture - HR 5484, and the 1988 Omnibus Act, were co-created and championed by some of the nation's most prominent black politicians; this pretty much rules out simple racism as a tidy explanation for their content.)

Anyways, aside from all the usual anti-treatment rhetoric, folktales, and exaggerations:

(Rangel) is outraged because a number of heroin addicts who seek help are being "pumped up" with methadone. "It's a crime to give these kids a drug that is more addictive than heroin itself," he says. (ahem!)

...one of the ways that Rangel and his cohort, who was to become one of the war's more Rumsfeldian defenders, rationalized the war was by
holding the position that it was somehow winnable with higher spending and more prosecution. The "dirty" parts of war could effectively be pushed out of American cities to the international arena, and that climbing up the ladder of dealers and suppliers would eventually lea to military interdiction and the prospect of 'taking the war to them.' To whom?

Why, to the Columbians, to the Haitians, and to all the other blips and scapegoats on the map of our hemispheric drug czar. To all the nations who created our crack problem by, you know, growing what they did on their own soil. And so, while we'd go about architecting the laws that decimate our cities, we could innocently point the finger out at the rest of the world and say it comes from out there. Not our fault. Regime change.

Jesse Jackson's 1988 Nomination speech:
We can go and buy the drugs by the boxes at the port. If we can buy the drugs at the port, don't you believe the Federal government can stop it if they want to?" [...] You cannot fight a war on drugs unless and until you're going to challenge the bankers and the gun sellers and those who grow them. Don't just focus on the children; let's stop drugs at the level of supply and demand. We must end the scourge on the American Culture.

But all of that happened when I was just a little kid, so I only really know it secondhand. By the time I got a little older, it turned out that there was a more cinematic solution with a believable villain: the CIA had instigated the crack trade as a petulant strike at black America. What KRS-One started with crack agitprop on Criminal Minded in 86 (with a Reefer Madness take on how crack turns sane women into, yes, castrating prostitutes), Mos Def advanced by name-checking Ricky Ross, and it got weirder from there (Frontline debunks). So now it's really the white establishment behind the scenes, masterminding it, selling it, and so on.

What net effect do these memes and stories have, if believed? Well, for one thing, I think they help keep bad laws like HR 5484 on the books, because believing that crack is a weapon, an intentional assault against your own country, community, or race, is not going to engender a reasonable mindset. But, additionally, they gainsay a deeper look at the problem, and our own involvement in it. To take a complex failure like the drug war, and distill out only a single word (racism), and to consequently vote for all the same policies as before, is a flat refusal to learn from past mistakes.

Especially when patterns start to repeat themselves.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:02 AM on March 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


But all of that happened when I was just a little kid, so I only really know it secondhand.

i worked at a motel when the crack epidemic hit - and the speed and intensity of the epidemic, even in a small midwestern city, had to be seen to be believed - you seem to suggest that the media exaggerated it, but it really did happen that fast and that horribly - in fact the media was pretty slow to catch on to it - everything was pretty quiet during 1984 - 1985 came and all hell broke loose - suddenly we were getting lots of drug dealers checking in and the motel became partytown - soon, the severity of addiction became apparent and yes, some women were selling themselves for it, although i don't believe they were castrating anyone

it was like night and day - and contrary to what people might think, it hit as many white people as it did black people

By the time I got a little older, it turned out that there was a more cinematic solution with a believable villain: the CIA had instigated the crack trade as a petulant strike at black America.

during the same time period 1984-85, an ounce of grass went from 35-40 bucks to 160 bucks - my drug dealer said her suppliers were telling her that a crime organization was literally turning back boats in the gulf of mexico with marijuana, that powerful forces wanted cocaine to be smuggled in, not weed - it became very tough to find it for awhile - by the time it was fairly common again, the price was up to 160 and it was stronger homegrown stuff, not the imported weed we'd gotten before

someone, probably the drug dealing cartels south of the border, decided that if they could cut off the supply of weed, which was bulky and much more detectable, and substitute it for shipments of coke and introduce crack smoking to america as a marketing scene, they would make a lot more money

i might add that there were also a lot of weapons involved too - the kind that cops weren't used to seeing on the streets, serious hardware - the kind that one would probably want to deal in if one wanted to supply a contra group with guns

it's pretty well known that the cia was involved in the iran/contra affair and all sorts of other nefarious deeds in latin america - they weren't too careful about who they employed or what those people did for a living - if getting a few hundred guns to the right paramilitary forces meant tolerating some cocaine smuggling into the us, so be it - and if it meant actually taking cocaine in payment ... well, that's pretty good money, isn't it? - we really don't need to say that the cia necessarily intended to weaken black communities - no, some of their agents just wanted to help their friends and make some money and what happened after that wasn't really their concern

Especially when patterns start to repeat themselves.

i'm glad you brought the meth thing up, because meth has been around for quite some time - true, back then, you snorted it, not smoked it, and it wasn't as powerful or addicting that way - in fact, one had to really try to get it, and getting addicted to it was practically unknown - in the early 90s, though, we started hearing about people who smoked it on the west coast - it took years for it to reach the midwest as an actual epidemic in that form - it was a slow and pretty gradual process

someone's going to have to explain to me why smokable meth took nearly a decade to spread all over the country as the epidemic that it is and crack cocaine took 6-12 months - i know what i think - meth was spread by the little people and that's how things spread when the little people spread them - slowly - crack was spread by some pretty big time people - and yeah, some of them had government connections

something was going on back then with that and dismissing it as mere crankery doesn't explain it adequately

Well, for one thing, I think they help keep bad laws like HR 5484 on the books, because believing that crack is a weapon, an intentional assault against your own country, community, or race, is not going to engender a reasonable mindset.

except that the people who believe in this conspiracy theory will turn right around and say that the prison system, and specifically HR 5484, is the other fist that is being used against the community - they perceive it as a process where first "the man" brings the drugs in, and then "the man" changes the laws to persecute those who get swept up in it - they do not use it as a justification for those laws
posted by pyramid termite at 6:52 AM on March 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


marketing scheme ... (argh)
posted by pyramid termite at 6:53 AM on March 27, 2008


Wow, kid ichorous. That's some cite. Thank you for taking the time to put that together.

It makes sense that politicians - even black politicians - would push for mandatory minimum sentencing, and tougher crack laws. Especially when faced with an epidemic. It fits into a political image that sells, and I think it's part of an effort to "do something" regardless of whether or not that something is effective. Obviously the drug war is complicated, and reducing it to "racism" is not helpful without also considering all of the institutions making money off of it and etc.

That being said, downplaying the role of racism in the crack sentencing doesn't seem fair to me, either. Especially looking at part of the effect of those laws reflected in the racial disparities among incarcerated people, at least in the United States.

Didn't that "CIA instigated the crack trade" meme come about after the initial mandatory minimum sentencing rush? If so, it could hardly be said to help justify it. In fact, it seems like it would do just the opposite, no?
posted by lunit at 9:08 AM on March 27, 2008


But would acknowledging our nation's misdeeds, perceived and real, with a "Thy Mercy on thy people, Lord!" rather than a "God Damn America!" really handicap him inside his community?

I think, if you watch the sermon in its entirety, you'll realize that is exactly what he's saying.
posted by Miko at 9:14 AM on March 27, 2008


"God damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God, and she is Supreme."
posted by Miko at 9:22 AM on March 27, 2008


Thanks for this post. I guess I'm in the minority here as even in context I still find Wright offensive.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:59 AM on March 27, 2008


[Thinking about it more, and extrapolating on some of Peter A.'s links]

--it seems to me that the "God damn America" meme can only be understood completely from within the framework of black liberation theology. The basic outlines seem to be: Christianity's proper concern is freedom from oppression. Biblical stories are interpreted to emphasize that theme; Christ's life is interpreted to emphasize that theme. To oppress other people, then, is to commit a sin, to behave evilly. Those who behave evilly (oppress others) deserve damnation. America has oppressed others and in some ways around the world is still involved in doing so; therefore America can't be blessed. As Americans, our oppressive actions are damning us, putting us squarely on the side of evil.

The overall message, of course, is that believers should avoid becoming evil, avoid becoming oppressors; that it's wrong to fight oppression with counter-oppression, to fight rage with rage, to fight violence by using violence. The appropriate response is to take MLK's other path. But you don't get an overall message from a few seconds of videotape - hence the problem.

All that said, it's the hyperbolic delivery that makes this sell on TV and seem so horrendous. This thinking behind the statement is indeed the old cheek-turning and Golden Rule. The commentary on American actions and the use of violence is no different from what I hear at coffee hour after Quaker meeting, but earnestly speaking it in low tones while enjoying an oatmeal cookie would probably be fairly uninteresting to Fox News.
posted by Miko at 10:01 AM on March 27, 2008


The basic outlines seem to be: Christianity's proper concern is freedom from oppression. Biblical stories are interpreted to emphasize that theme; Christ's life is interpreted to emphasize that theme.

I think you are right, and I would just point out that it is by no means a stretch to make this the central theme of the scriptures. Jesus' own statement of purpose was taken from Isaiah's line that:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Isaiah 61:1-2/Luke 4:18-19

Approximately 6 bajillion other scriptures echo that sentiment. What Cone says is that Christianity can only be understood by identification with the marginalized, and that to be a Christian is to eschew power and privilege to serve others. Some people don't like the implications of that, but it's hard to read the New Testament and significantly disagree with his thesis.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:23 AM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gary Webb's Dark Alliance series on the CIA and crack, originally in the San Jose Mercury News. "In 2004, Webb was found dead from two self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head, a victim of an apparent suicide." (emphasis added)

God damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God, and she is Supreme.

God is Diana Ross? That explains a lot, actually.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:29 AM on March 27, 2008


Another copy of the Dark Alliance series.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:30 AM on March 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


my drug dealer said her suppliers were telling her that a crime organization was literally turning back boats in the gulf of mexico with marijuana, that powerful forces wanted cocaine to be smuggled in, not weed

That crime organization of which you speak? That'd be the CIA.

Do a google for "CIA drug plane." Quite a big story a-brewing.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:23 PM on March 27, 2008


I think, if you watch the sermon in its entirety, you'll realize that is exactly what he's saying.

I think I do get it, at least enough to identify the commonalities between Wright and others like Kipling, and I don't find any real offense at Wright's sermon even though I could argue with some points.

My worry is that that the language and delivery make it easier for people who might not look closely or have an axe to grind to walk away with a casual but wrong conclusion.

I understand that like all communication, this is not just Wright's problem. The listener can never escape responsibility, and now that we're in this place where formerly localized remarks can so easily escape to the rooftops, we're going to have to get better into peering into the context in which they were delivered if we're not going to get manipulated (and there are sooo many places where that's obviously true, set the wayback machine for the 2004 primary and put Dean's scream in the context of a campaign rally, where it makes sense, but the way lots of people talked about it, you would think he'd yelled during a peace summit).

But if you're part of a community that has members who want to transcend it -- if you want your influence to transcend your community -- you have to start searching for the larger rhetoric, and I think it can be done (Obama seems to know how).

All that said, it's the hyperbolic delivery that makes this sell on TV and seem so horrendous.

I think that's largely true, but having that a convenient soundbitten "God Damn America" really kicks it in. I also think it makes it a potent rhetorical point for an audience that's prepared for it, but that's limited, especially in Lee Greenwood America.
posted by weston at 6:35 PM on March 27, 2008


And, ugh, obviously what I'm advocating isn't easy. I just made a mistake with the phrase "especially in Lee Greenwood America." I might have spoken specifically about certain communities that identify what they know and love with the idea America instead of using a slightly contemptuous shorthand.

And saved my criticism of the lyrical content in Greenwood's most patriotic song for a moment when I could measure it reasonably and more effectively.
posted by weston at 6:48 PM on March 27, 2008


I also think it makes it a potent rhetorical point for an audience that's prepared for it,

Which is why it's important to remember that these messages were delivered to a supportive audience who have a relationship with Dr. Wright and were with him through the build-up and conclusion. Sermons really are a unique rhetorical form, and for many it's hard to listen to a line or two and have any idea what function those statements perform in the whole message.

In 2001, no one would have imagined that a member of Trinity would be running for president, and that opposition researchers would be combing through the available recordings of Dr. Wright for things that could be used against a parishioner.

I hope none of my parishioners ever run for President. The minute an exporatory committee gets formed, I'm deleting the archives.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:04 PM on March 27, 2008


On Fresh Air yesterday: James Cone on Black Liberation Theology and theologian Dwight Hopkins with a historical perspective, with a Barbara Bradley Hagerty essay on Wright, and many related links.
posted by Miko at 9:39 AM on April 1, 2008


Catholic Priest Rips Fox News a New One
posted by homunculus at 7:44 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Excerpts from Rev. Wright Interview With Bill Moyers -- To Be Aired Tomorrow
posted by homunculus at 10:08 AM on April 24, 2008


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