The open eruption of history’s wounds in the on-going-but-dying-out Obama/Reverend Wright controversy has contributed to the most fascinating, depressing and sobering period of American public debate for as long as I’ve been politically aware. For some time, my contention has been that, as individuals, Americans have grown consistently less racist while, institutionally, the country has become systematically more biased against, in particular, African-Americans.
In my opinion, the root of this is the perpetual conflation of being black with being poor. Every society has an underclass, but there is something uniquely perverse about the ability of Americans to associate the state of poverty with one racial phenotype. Though this is a legacy of slavery, the calcification began during the years and decades following the Civil War, in which a systematic abuse of African-Americans became the de facto policy of this country. Given an honest assessment in this Year of Our Lord 2008– a few days ago, I read that 50% of African-American female teenagers have some form of STD– it’s difficult to see how the political and social mechanisms have much improved, at least on an economic basis. And social mobility and justice is entirely economic.
Nothing about Wright’s sermons surprised me; anyone possessing even a passing familiarity with African-American religion knows that it has always been, in part, a mirror held to the failings of The Dream. When a theology is born amongst an enslaved people, please do not be surprised that this theology is less than enchanted with the status quo. There was nothing surprising about Obama’s membership in this church– nor the fact that as a middle class black man, he would not be frothing at the mouth in horror.
The truth has always been there: that dude’s a part of the black community. What I think genuinely did blindside Obama, whose entire life has been spent as liminal figure straddling multiple identities, is the extent to which African-American culture– and I mean the culture of real people, not just the folk on TV and radio– is completely ignored by the rest of the country.
At first I tried to dismiss the outrage as more Right Wing inanity, but the consistency of the response, even after The Speech, has me convinced that this is a real concern for a lot of White People. And make no mistake: such real concerns are, and always have been, motivated by racism. Not merely an institutional racism, but a personal, individual discomfort and fear. The idiotic reactions to Wright’s goofy statements have me wondering if I haven’t been wrong. Perhaps as a result of Reagan and post-Reagan (by which I mean Clinton more than Dubya) policies and demographic migrations, African-American have become more invisible, thereby lessening the opportunities for white racism by individuals.
Amidst the furore, I have been bombarded endlessly with this Stuff That White People Like blog– probably the most insubstantial, and worse yet, least funny of all Internet fads. Surely someone has commented on the timing of this site’s hitting critical mass. That the author clinched a book deal in the same week in which Obama gave The Speech can not be irrelevant; it’s almost as if the attempt at substantiative discussion forced America to expel from its bowels a meaningless and thin diversion. The site is not merely unfunny, it’s also a smoke-screen.
I’ve never found Bloggingheads to be anything but annoying, but I think that this discussion between John McWhorter and Glenn Loury is one of the best things that I’ve ever seen on the Internet. Both men are relatively controversial African-Americans scholars, and they discuss Obama, Wright and The Speech. It’s the finest encapsulation and discussion of the consequences of this affair. You won’t find anything better.
Drudge in Hollywood
On Steve Ditko
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