Out of the Closet
Vol: 79 Issue: 28 Monday, April 28, 2008
Last night, Reverend Jeremiah Wright went on national television to give a speech in which America learned there were still two Americas; a ‘white’ America and a ‘black’ America.
Rev. Jeremiah Wright was addressing the Michigan National Association for the Advancement of Colored People “Freedom Fund” dinner in Detroit.
One of the few white politicians in evidence was Governor Janet Granholm, who told the assembly:
“A change is going to come, but we ve got a long way to go to achieve a victory to get to the promised land. As long as racism exists, attacks on affirmative action exist, unacceptable high school dropout rates exist, health care and incarceration disparities exist, we will not rest until we have justice and qualify for all.”
Gov. Granholm is right. As long as racism exists, so will all those other things.
That was not such earth-shattering news, after all. Despite fifty years of affirmative action, desegregation, integration and racial sensitivity.
What WAS stunning was for me to learn that it’s not white America that perpetuates racial separation. According to Wright, it is black America that wants separation according to race.
Wright argued there should be separate standards for schools, separate standards for language, separate standards of conduct and separate moral standards.
Much of what Wright focused on were the differences between black Americans and ‘Europeans’ and some of it was pretty interesting.
I’d have to agree with his observations about ‘black’ music and ‘black’ rhythm, (but up until Wright pointed it out, I thought I wasn’t allowed to notice.)
As long as we’re being honest here, I’ve always thought black people I know sing better, and have better rhythm, but again, I thought noticing that would make me ‘racist’ so it is an observation I’ve always kept to myself.
I can’t say about black people world-wide — my experience is only with black Americans that I’ve heard sing or seen dance. And I admit I know just as many I’ve never seen do either one, so maybe they can’t.
But I’ve heard lots of white people try to sing — and nobody ever spoke admiringly of ‘white natural rhythm’ that I’ve ever heard.
In point of fact, I’ve always kind of envied it — the typical Irishmen of my experience only think they can sing, and the only famous Irish dancers I ever heard of were the River Dancers. (Energetic, but not exactly fluid).
There are exceptions, but that’s what makes them exceptions.
I doubt Bill O’Reilly could sing a note, but I wasn’t a bit surprised to see how well Obama danced with Ellen Degeneres.
I learned from Rev. Wright’s NAACP speech that it is because black people naturally put emphasis on different notes than ‘Europeans’ do, and that is why they sing better and why they are better dancers.
And Reverend Wright proved his case by demonstrating he was both a gifted singer and dancer.
Reverend Wright took all that out of the closet in his speech, and I am grateful to him for it –but I don’t believe his intention was to relieve my white guilt at noticing what is to me, an obvious truth.
Stereotypes exist for the same reason that ‘old sayings’ exist. They don’t spring up out of a vacuum, but are based in what is generally universal observation.
It is when the ‘stereotypical’ crosses over to the ‘typical’ the lines between observation and prejudice begin to blur.
Rev. Wright’s speech brought it sharply back into focus, crafting it around some pretty impressive prose — no doubt he is one whiz-bang preacher.
But the speech, at its core, was as racist as any given by any white separatist at any all-white organization dedicated to the advancement of one race at the expense of another could be.
Only the color scheme had changed — the rhetoric was just as racist.
Reverend Wright reminds me a bit of the late, unlamented Yasser Arafat. Oslo took away Arafat’s reason to hate Israel, but without it, he was purposeless. So he abandoned the promise of present-day peace to rage against history to justify continuing the conflict.
Fifty years ago, Rev. Wright raged against segregation, separate facilities, unequal education, race-based standards of acceptance. They’ve largely been addressed.
What’s he raging at now? What happened a hundred and fifty years ago as if the ink on the Emancipation Proclamation were still wet.
I hate to say that. I don’t think that I am a racist, and I think the charge gets thrown around so much its lost its meaning. But if words mean what they say, this is what the dictionary says the word means:
Racism: “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races;”
Or, alternatively, “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief.”
I’ve admitted I think that the black people I know whom I’ve heard sing do a better job at it than virtually all of the white people I know whom I’ve heard sing.
But I don’t believe that makes me a racist. After all, I don’t know all black people and I don’t know all white people. I just know I’d rather listen to Sam Cooke as Jim Morrison any day of the week.
And I promise not to get mad at you if you don’t.
This is a very difficult subject to take on for me. I’m not writing to white people or black people — I am writing to people — only you know (or care) what color your skin is.
The only colors I use are black words on a white background. Take away the black, and it’s a blank page.
Take away the white, and the words vanish. Both are necessary to make any sense of either. But who notices black and white what is important are the thoughts both conspire together to convey?
An all-white America wouldn’t be America; an all-black one wouldn’t be America either. Without both, it would be neither and whatever it would be, it would be unimaginably poorer.
I have every confidence that every white writer who is attempting to sort out Wright’s comments is doing as much back-spacing as I am, but that was precisely what Wright’s speech was crafted for.
I’d like to think that was what Reverend Jeremiah Wright was getting at in his speech — ie; that we can notice differences between the races while understanding differences aren’t the same as deficiencies.
I agree whole-heartedly — I’ve said so many times. Things that are different are not the same, and that applies equally to people of any color, in any context. No two people are the same and no intelligent person would think otherwise.
But Wright was talking about black ‘differences’ and white ‘deficiencies’ — black churches are different, and whites who don’t make allowances for the differences are deficient.
For example, those who thought that the comments he made justifying the 9/11 attacks were ‘unpatriotic’ were ‘stuck on stupid’ — it was clear his NAACP audience knew he wasn’t talking about them.
If listening to a speech makes one uncomfortable about one’s own racial heritage and background qualifies as ‘racist speech’, then it was a speech about race that dripped unconcealed racism. (It made me want to go punch my daddy — not sure why)
One can banter back and forth all day long with charges and countercharges about which racial argument has the most merit, but racism is racism and the arguments only serve the justify the racist that has the cleverest debating points.
Nobody can be right when everything about the premise is wrong.
The racial hatred Wright was directing at me because black Americans immigrated here in the hold of slave ships took place almost a century before I was born.
Yet he forgave the 9/11 attackers while the Towers were still smoldering in New York, saying it was somehow the fault of ‘white’ America.
What did I do to Reverend Wright in my lifetime that was worse than that?
If I said something offensive about all Muslims, (simply because a huge segment of the Muslim population has sworn a blood oath to kill me if they can,) Reverend Wright would quickly and rightly point out, (as he did in his speech,) that not all Muslims are depraved killers.
Maybe not, but the only way to tell which are which is to wait and see who tries. We don’t have time for racism. There are folks out there that hate us all equally.
This is a real-time threat, not an historical legacy. Wright doesn’t have to worry about being sold into slavery, but his chances of being killed in an Islamic terrorist attack are no more or less than mine.
On the other hand, slavery was abolished in 1863. That was 145 years ago. That was 91 years before I was born.
It was abolished 56 years before my father was born (in slave-free Canada).
It was abolished 34 years before his father was born in County Wexford, Leinster Province, Republic of Ireland, (which held no slaves of any description.)
But all white ‘Europeans’ (including me) are saddled by Wright with a collective guilt for slavery — while the terrorists are simultaneously justified in attacking ‘white’ America because ‘white’ is a synonym for oppressor? If that isn’t racist, then I don’t understand the term.
But if this is what being the victim of racist slander feels like, then I don’t blame black America for hating it.
I just don’t understand why it’s directed at me, based entirely on the color of my skin.
And more to the point, why nobody else seems to care.