Why Wright Happens

| Thu Oct. 30, 2008 12:06 AM EDT

How come white folks can consort with racists but blacks can't? Not that I'm conceding that Rev. Wright is a racist. But let's stick to the point.

Jonathan Stein's post gives me the perfect opportunity to kvetch about something that's been driving me crazy about the attacks on Obama via Wright.

Stein's right that vicious ads like this one will give a great many cover to vote against Obama. But here's the thing: What about the racists and loonies who helped raise most of us? My father was bitter beyond belief about white racism, even though he had white friends and volunteered to fight in WWII. I can separate his horrific life experiences (Jim Crow sharecropper) out from my own (post-Civil Rights Movement) world view, as do most other Americans. When the elders got together and ranted and raved about the white man, I didn't go upstairs, write a formal denunciation, and secede from my family. I considered the source and was grateful to have been born later. How dare you demand that we have no complaints? Church, and to a lesser and more troubling extent, certain forms of rap 'music', are places we go for catharsis. And catharsis ain't usually a pretty sight.

Jason Whitlock, whom I blogged about earlier, summarized this notion perfectly:

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"It sickens me that we are forced to pretend Obama doesn't have the ability to associate with and even love people with extreme, illogical views, denounce those beliefs in words and deed and remain a rational, fair-minded person. For decades, black people have supported and respected elected white officials who were raised by unrepentant racists, and we are expected to take those white politicians at their word that their parents' views don't interfere with their motivation to be fair."

Right on. We don't buy into everything our ministers, elders, and Nation of Islam newspaper-vendors tell us. We take it for what it's worth if only because we've gotten a lot of practice at that, rolling our eyes and nudging each other when whites decry, for instance, the built-in affirmative action which almost entirely accounts for their group success. When you're black, you get the bullshit from all sides, and we're masters at keeping our own counsel. Here's a study of black opinion that didn't get near enough play when published in July, though it was recently discussed on CNN; the black community is nothing if not cacophanously diverse in its attitude toward race and world view. But you can only vote GOP or DNC (unless you want me to slap you) and those choices strike many blacks as all too clear.

Getting back to the issue of whether Wright is a racist or not, this whole kerfuffle also rankles because it demands that blacks have zero problem with race relations in this country. Well, guess what: We do, and we're not gonna shut up about it. Many of us believe whites/America as capable of just about anything, and realities like Gitmo, war profiteering, and the financial collapse have proved us all too right in that wariness.

Are there those among us who have been driven positively round the bend? Certainly, and we know just how to take them—as outlets for our sometimes incoherent rage. Then we go back to work as the the only black in our offices and we mix and mingle just fine, navigating between Raheem in the mailroom, who can "prove" all whites are devils, and Jennifer in accounting, who can never remember that you're not a cafeteria worker. We rarely argue with Raheem because he'd either pity or hate us as a sell out. Also, these guys are pretty amusing. Nor do we often bother to straighten Jennifer out (after three years) because we know it would only get us marked "angry" and "not a team player." Lots of things about America strike us as no crazier than our grannies and pastors; there has to be somewhere for us to work off the pressure.

Said it before and now I'm saying it again: It took the world centuries to make blacks this crazy. We come by it honestly. What's your grandmother's excuse?

Y'all show us a white in public life with no racists or conspiracy theorists among his intimates, and then we can talk about Wright.

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