Strong opinions, weakly held

The Obama disconnect

There’s been a ton of analysis of Barack Obama’s speech yesterday, so the whole thing isn’t worth reviewing. There is, however, one point that I have not seen made elsewhere that I wanted to bring up.

This was, I think, the key sentence in Barack Obama’s speech yesterday. It was about his pastor, Jeremiah Wright:

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.

A lot of people are still criticizing Obama because they can’t understand how he could continue to attend a church where the pastor believed the things that Jeremiah Wright professes to believe in his own sermons. Wright’s beliefs are not only hateful and divisive, but in some cases also downright ludicrous. This is a man who has said that he believes the US government created HIV as a tool for genocide in the inner cities.

What they don’t get, and what Obama tried to explain, is that these kinds of views are not uncommon in African American society. There’s a reason why Wright was able to keep his job as long as he wanted in spite of giving the sermons he gave.

If you can’t accept that an African American might associate with people who believe those sorts of things, then you may as well say that you just won’t vote for African Americans.If you want to challenge those beliefs, it’s probably best to start by acknowledging that they’re out there and that they’re widespread.

The other day my (white) barber told me that Monsanto, Bill Gates, and some other shadowy powers are selling genetically engineered corn that makes people infertile in Africa in order to stop population growth. I’m going to keep letting him cut my hair. Does that render me unfit for public office?

Update: Anyone have a link to the text or video of the infamous 2003 Jeremiah Wright speech? If so, please post a link in the comments. You could buy a DVD containing the sermon from the United Church of Christ until recently, but they don’t appear to be selling it any more.


  1. There is a apparently a pattern that requires Wright’s beliefs to be identified as hateful and divisive, which is almost invariably accompanied only by mention of his beliefs on AIDS. Now, the latter is a bit silly, but being a member of the black community myself, I know this borders on pretty much conventional wisdom in many inner city areas. I’ve read some of what Wright has said, seem some videos, and frankly, to me there is nothing remarkable, but of course, I’ve actually heard sermons in black churches, and I know the rhetorical flourishes used.

    Can you cite some particular passages that struck you as hateful and divisive?

  2. I think it’s hateful to say “God damn America” rather than “God bless America”. I think it’s divisive to endorse Louis Farrakhan. I also know that all of his worst quotes are completely taken out of context. I doubt any of his detractors even listened to the full sermons from which those quotes were taken. (I have not.)

    If you took the four or five worst sentences I’ve said over the past 10 or 20 years and broadcast them, most people would have a very unfavorable opinion of me. Or at least some people would.

  3. It seems pretty clear cut to me: the controversial statements were not made by Obama, or anyone speaking for him. End of story. I am kind of amazed that this is even an issue.

  4. ‘I think it’s hateful to say “God damn America” rather than “God bless America”. ‘

    A sermon is a story with an arc, not a political speech. It was never intended to be broken up into sound bites. Each “God damn America” was a condemnation of a specific domestic or international action, many of which I suspect you’d agree with. I found a link to the entire sermon a few weeks ago, if I find it again, I’ll post it.

    As for Farrakhan, I won’t defend him, but it is very difficult to separate the person and his beliefs from his leadership of the Nation of Islam. For all of it’s weirdnesses and at times ugly ideology (I consider them to be the black communities analog of the Mormons), it has saved many people from lives of drug addiction and crime. They have a much more positive reputation within the black community than you might imagine, and it has little or nothing to do with anti-semitic rhetoric.

  5. It’s no accident that Rev. Wright is gobbling up all the headlines, while McCain’s association with crazier pastors on the right aren’t even mentioned.

    I think you hit the nail on the head in a way. There are a lot of people in this country who will accept a black president, but only if that person rejects the community from whence they came and promise to “act white.”

    And what about Hillary’s association with “The Family” – sect like group in Washington that has forged relationships with the most right wing and fascistic dictators in Latin America and Africa.

    A white person associating with lunatics is OK. But a black person associating with someone like Rev. Wright conjures up images of the “slave rebellion”.

  6. Here’s a link to the Wright’s “God damn America” sermon

    (via Scripting.com)

    The full quote is “…God damn America, as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is supreme…”

    Talk about quoting out of context… = tmk =

  7. I’m with the “God damn America” defenders: honestly quoting it would force any Christian to agree with it. “Damn” used to be a theological term and it’s inarguably relevant for a country which tortures and kills innocents, which is characteristically gluttonous and arrogant, and fails to take care of the poor and needy – all things which are condemned pretty strongly.

    I suspect most of this is simply the latest 5-minute hate organized by the noise-machine but I am somewhat curious whether some of the backlash isn’t because of distortion but rather because people actually did understand Wright’s intent and reacted so harshly because he was plainly rejecting the concept of American exceptionalism. Many on the right believe our might is a sign of divine blessing – lose the automatic “we’re the good guys doing what it takes” card and you’d be forced to ask some rather inconvenient questions as to whether, say, Jesus would approve of torture and killing or simply ignoring the poor and needy when we have so many riches.

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