Saturday, May 3, 2008

Our Dirty Laundry: Reverend Wright Has A Point

It finally happened this week. It was going to happen, of course. Most of us knew it. Yet it was still a surprise when it happened, because the issue had been bouncing around for so long that there was a good chance it would lose traction.

Yet, last week, Reverend Wright held a press conference defending himself and Barack Obama. In that press conference, he pushed too far. He spoke for the presidential candidate without the candidate's leave, always a big mistake. He presumed to know what Senator Obama was thinking and the results didn't go well for him.

Barack Obama threw the good reverend under the bus.

More than that, he sounded generally angry and hurt that Rev. Wright would go so far. He looked to be a man shocked by the betrayal of a close friend, and his repudiation of Rev. Wright was not merely political. It was very personal. The friendship was over.

I can't condemn Obama. He held on and refused to disavow the man when it was just a matter of controversial political beliefs, but when Rev. Wright presumed to speak for Obama as a presidential candidate then the only choice was to agree (either silently or vocally) with the reverend's statements or to disavow them.

Yet the statements that Reverend Wright has made, as controversial as they may be and as hard as they hit home with white Americans who are either pricked by a guilty conscience or convicted of their own superiority and the perfection of the United States of America, they are not entirely full of shit.

No, the U.S. government did not 'unleash' AIDS on the African-American community... but President Reagan did completely ignore the pain, suffering, and death of AIDS victims for years. Federal funding for AIDS research always lagged in the Reagan and George I years, and the breakthroughs in AIDS treatment finally made are available only to those who can (through government aid, private charity, or personal assets) afford them. Bill Clinton's failure to push a national health care program through a liberal and Democratic Congress in his first term in office meant that the poor and unemployed were no better off than they were before. The government may not have 'unleashed' AIDS on anyone, but it did far too little and too late to help anyone.

As for the statement that the United States brought the events of 9/11 on itself... this is a much more difficult and complicated issue. No country deserves to have its civilians killed by a horrible terrorist act. Certainly we did not deserve to be the victims of 9/11. Yet, ever since the end of the Cold War, the ringing shouts of American triumphalism and imperialism have been heard through the world. Have American capitalists really forgotten the maxims of their own classical prophets? Thomas Malthus noted that for the middle class to be comfortable and the rich to be rich, the poor needed to be poor and exploited. He argued that attempts to ameliorate the plight of the unemployed and of the exploited working class would destroy the entire British economy. Is this far from the cries of the American right that we cannot 'afford' national health care, social security, unemployment, or any sort of social safety net whatsoever? Now take this one step further: for the United States to be a rich consumer nation, the Third World nations who now provide the resources we consume must be exploited and oppressed in the same manner as the Victorian working class of Dickens. Britain's workers got angry. Clearly, parts of the third world are angry too.

Malthus was not necessarily right, but his doctrines provide a warm blanket of necessity to keep the cold of guilt away from the rich, powerful, and corrupt. 9/11 tore through that blanket, and the actions of the rich, powerful, and corrupt certainly contributed to the anger that motivated 9/11.

Louis Farrakhan is a bad guy and I, personally, believe the Nation of Islam to be a protection racket disguised as religion. I don't have any more sympathy for anti-Semites than I do for racists, black men and Jewish men are equally my brothers. Yet, the concept of black militancy is not entirely negative despite the attempts of those uncomfortable with the status quo to frame it as such. The original black militants of the 1920s and 1930s created black businesses, a black baseball league, and black entertainment. They proved that black communities could be self sufficient and that blacks really were equal, whatever the law dictated or racists believed. The sporting successes of Joe Louis, Bill Spiller, Jackie Robinson, and Bill Russell would not have been possible without them. Many of the civil rights gains of the 50s and 60s would not have been possible without black athletes having convinced white America that blacks could be heroes.

When drugs, crime, and the institutional and geographical segregation of the urban north appeared to be even more frightening adversaries than white men with guns and ropes, black militants attempted to encourage self-sufficiency once again. The notion of racial separatism may be abominable, but to many of them it seemed that black communities had been strongest when racism was strongest and that too many African-Americans were failing to take action to improve their own lives. The idea that we should all take action to improve our own lives has another name: 'The American Dream.'

I don't know if Reverend Wright loves the United States of America, but if he is truly as 'anti-American' as the Clinton Democratic Establishment and the Republican Party would paint him then it is possible he has some cause to be. Perhaps we should solve the problems, instead of condemning the men who call our attention to them, however misguidedly.

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