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African-American perspective on Reverend Wright

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{Editorial Preface: *One of the most widely esteemed pastors in the African American world, and a dearly loved member of the Network of
Spiritual Progressives' National Advisory Board, Rev. Graylan Hager presents below a very different interpretation of the Rev. Wright events
than those given in mainstream media, or presented in Eli Zaretsky's article (which I now believe I should not have been sent because of its demeaning
language which could easily be heard as racist and sexist, and was certainly lacking in the compassion we speak about in the Network of Spiritual Progressives and seek in Tikkun magazine).

Rev. Hagler, on the other hand, may be just a bit too compassionate for the following reasons:
1. He does not recognize adequately that it was not just whites but a new generation of African Americans represented by Obama who no longer believe
that the mau-mau-ing language and scare tactics used by African Americans to force America to acknowledge its racism that began in the 60s has any real
usefulness left forty years later. Obama's central point cannot be reduced simply to self-interest of saying: "stop, you are frightening my potential
white voters." Rather, Obama is saying that the way to challenge racism is to stop making it win/lose and start making the anti-racist struggle
win/win. Obama has learned from Nelson Mandela rather than from H. Rap Brown, Eldridge Cleaver and Stokely Carmichael. Mandela recognized that
though it wasn't fair to ask the oppressed South Africans to re-assure whites that if there was racial equality whites would not suffer violence
and oppression, but it was smart to give that reassurance and the best way to help ease the path to end the suffering of South African blacks.

This is what Obama implicitly, and Tikkun explicitly, is saying: liberation forces, liberals, progressives, etc. MUST recognize that being "right" is
not always enough, and that sometimes one must ALSO be "smart," even if that means having to provide reassurances to the fearful when by rights the
fearful should be providing those reassurances to the oppressed. Rev. Wright totally flubbed a unique moment for African Americans and for all of us who
have committed our lives to challenging racism in this world, and acted self-indulgently when he could have used those moments to explain in a
reasoned way what the actual suffereing of African Americans continues to be in America, and what the suffering of others around the world is that is
caused by the global capitalist system that Western countries have imposed on the rest of the world.

Imagine, for example, if in a reasoned and calm way Rev. Wright had explained what he meant by "chickens coming home to roost" on 9/11 by
talking about the 20,000 children who died that same day of malnutrition-related diseases and inadequate health care, while the corporations functioning out of the World Trade Towers and protected by the Pentagon turn a deaf ear to the suffering that our system engenders, and then went on to say that he disagreed with the violence of the terrorists and opposed that way of protesting, supported instead the path of Martin Luther King, Jr. and non-violence, but understood without condoning and without justifying it, the rage of people who watch Americans in their smug self-satisfied materialist heaven ignoring the suffering of others around the world.

Such a response would have then given an opportunity for others to say: Well, what's wrong with what Wright is saying?

Instead, we were all forced to distance from what Sen. Obama called a performance precisely because it did NOT speak to the people to whom he was speaking.

Who exactly did he imagine was his audience when accepting an invitation to The National Press Club and faced 3 rows worth of national television cameras? Are we to believe that somehow he was misled into thinking that this was another mega-church filled with his supporters? Rev. Hagler is right to mention the
huge gap in communication between white and African-American communities, but why wasn't it obvious to Rev. Wright that such a gap would only be
widened by the kind of discourse he used at the National Press Club? If your intention is to communicate, then the minimum requirement is to know
something about the language of those to whom you wish to talk. And if on principle you won't do that, then don't be surprised when others
mis-understand what you are saying. And if you come in to the event with your body-guards, and they look they were supplied by the Black militants of
days gone by, or worse, by the Farrakhan-style Nation of Islam, don't be surprised that others will hear you through their most defensive screens.
Don't picture yourself a sacrifiial lamb if someone who does want to be heard, like Obama, distances himself from the performance you've done that
was felt to be projecting contempt not only by whites but also by young African Americans who no longer resonate to the good-old-discourse of the

2. * Rev. Hagler passes over the identification that Rev. Wright continued to assert with Rev. Farrakhan, arguably the most effective and dangerous
homophobe and anti-Semite in the U.S. In case you think that I'm exaggerating the deep hatred of gays that this mis-leader of African
Americans continues to assert, I've listed, after Rev. Hagler's talk, some of Farrakhan's statements made in the years after I and others from Tikkun
picketed an NAACP "summit" at which Farrakhan was speaking and about which I debated my friend Cornel West (co author with me of Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin, Putnam, 1995). Read those quotes and then you will see why for friends of homosexuals and Jews, the association with Farrakhan is as
objectionable to us as it would be if a national Jewish leader were defending the country's most prominent anti-Black racist segregationist.

Yet, there is much to be learned from Rev. Hagler, and his piece is deep, balanced, and provocative. I believe anyone who reads it will get a very different way of thinking about the recent blowup around Rev. Wright.
--Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun]*
Wright Does Obama A Favor: Wright, the Sacrificial Lamb*
by Rev. Graylan Hagler

Senator Barrack Obama severed his ties with Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, and quite possibly with the church, Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago,
Illinois, after viewing news coverage and the C-Span broadcast of Rev. Wright's presentation at the National Press Club, and with mounting media
questions, opponent attacks, and topsy-turviness in the polls, Senator Obama presented his perspective, angst, and emotional vulnerability publicly which
completely and without a doubt severed his ties with his former Pastor.

This all culminated after weeks of video loops where Rev. Wright was seen 'damning America,' and proclaiming 'the chickens have come home to roost' to
a church filled with joyous, 'amening' and predominantly Black people. This scene frightened much of White America, giving pause because they were
shocked by the statements and wondering whether Obama was like his pastor and the church.

Obama's opponents, seeing an excellent opportunity to whittle away at the Obama campaign did so effectively raising a subtle and modified race card
inferring "Is he really one of us?" The sheer will of Obama's opponents kept the loops televised, as they dug to find new angles to a now old story every
reporting day. These questions dogged the Obama campaign for weeks, nearly crippling it and diverting its attention from the campaign and the issues
that the campaign needed to articulate.

The tapes of Wright broke just after he began his Sabbatical and had gone away prior to his formal retirement from Trinity United Church of Christ later in 2008. Therefore there was a natural excuse for silence on the part of Rev. Wright that allowed the story to continue on. The 'story' lacked a voice on the other side, and therefore reporters and pundits kept finding sensation with which they could easily feed the public and water the seeds of greater doubts and frame questions that had no satisfying answers.

As the story played, Senator Obama was forced to come out and make a statement. The pundits applauded his speech on 'Race.' They praised him for
his poise, non-threatening tone, and in-depth analysis of the issues surrounding slavery, Jim Crow, and in general race in America. He assured White America that he understood their resentment because of Affirmative Action, reinforced his mixed heritage by citing his grandmother who sometimes said things that should not be repeated in racially mixed company, according to Obama. He said, "I cannot disown Rev. Wright as I cannot disown myown White grandmother" - which cemented into the public's consciousness that Wright was indeed a racist along with Obama's White grandmother.

Whereupon one of my Black pastor friends who reside in Chicago asserted, "Wright and Obama's grandmother were thrown under the bus by Obama!"

The Obama explanation on Wright and race were largely satisfying to his supporters and non-supporters alike. The White community was mostly reassured in that speech. No matter how young, gifted and particularly Black he did not have the edge that many Whites perceive exists in Black people. They also felt that Obama with his refined tones would not come at them with civil rights, preference programs, calls for Reparations, and would not shout out the "R" word when in heated discussions between him and White people. Obama established that he was a new kind of Black person, not a relic from the past, as represented by Rev. Wright, or those other 'angry' Black men that we see on the streets everyday. He was safe and many Whites again felt that 'Maybe he is safe enough.'

However the Wright tapes were still playing in the background. After all Rev. Wright was still out of "sound-bite" and therefore the 'story' was unable to be tilted one way or another. The tapes played as conservative talk show hosts and commentators continued to ask whether Obama was sincere or not with his understanding of race and of implied assurances to Whites. Onto the stage steps Rev. Wright. In his appearance on Bill Moyers, a fellow member of the United Church of Christ, Wright was able to offer a reasoned and mellowed response to the questions that the White nation had about his statements. On the Bill Moyers show Rev. Wright appeared calm, intellectual, and relatively reasonable.

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Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun and national chair of the Tikkun Community/ Network of Spiritual Progressives. People are invited to subscribe to Tikkun magazine or join the interfaith organization the Network of Spiritual Progressives-- "both of which can be done by (more...)
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