I am disappointed at Senator Barack Obama’s recent seeming repudiation of Dr. Jeremiah Wright. Based on his comments made (while seeming unduly despondent) it was summed up as Dr. Wright “not being the same man” Obama knew some 20 years ago. Who knows—as some folks on black-culture message boards have suggested, maybe the good Senator is just playing chess, making terse statements to appease skeptical ‘moderates’ while planning to still achieve the greater good. Still, I feel all the intensified questioning from mainstream press outlets is shameful commentary on today’s journalism. The subtext around the ‘controversy’ of Dr. Wright’s recent interview with the US press corp highlights this. Wow, it’s got even Dr. Phil McGraw and Jay Leno talking about it right now. You know, I happen to like Jay, and I’ll give Oprah Winfrey’s Texas-bred buddy some credit for not coming across as too sanctimonious half of the time. But here’s a news flash for both of them:
psst: certain white folks out there still don't get it-- even those who think they do.
Concerning prickly social topics like race relations, especially in relationship to the black experience in America, the paternalism of the dominant culture effectively hobbles any frank discussions on the matter. Many folks, especially self-described conservatives, claim to hate political correctness. Still, somehow it seems that when a person—in particular, a person of color—diverges from commonly acceptable statements concerning such a topic as race relations or American history, then status-quo types raise their hackles: “How dare they?”
As Dr. Wright pointed out in his keynote speech to the NAACP, “different does not mean deficient”. He used metaphors relating to the performance styles of college marching bands, but the issue goes much further. Blacks in this country—and largely, other ethnics of color as well—in general, learn a different cultural history than what most whites tend to learn. I’m not talking about books, here—though chances are, the average school book disbursed to students in any inner-city district is probably not going to be as up-to-date as those disbursed to their suburban contemporaries.
What Lies Beneath
In school, blacks have to learn American and ‘world’ history largely from the standpoint of European-Americans. They learn of the struggles of the Puritans who crossed the Atlantic to the New World. They learn of the colonists and the tension that rose from the increasing demands of King George III’s regime. They learn of the heroism of George Washington, John Adams, and all the other nice folks who are on our assorted dollar bills. That a great many of these men owned blacks as slaves is given minimal attention and import compared to chopping down cherry trees and discovering electricity with a kite & key.
Relatively speaking, blacks learn little about what people who look like them contributed to America and the world—except, well, that they were slaves, and the masses of kindly whites up North fought exclusively to free them (heh) and then, black people didn’t do much until, um, Martin Luther King came along and helped eventually introduce his people to the great coffee and ice cream served at Woolworth’s café.
In short, the contributions of blacks to world culture is largely marginalized in America’s school systems, public or private. Blacks largely have to learn from outside of school that there is a reality “beneath” the reality that they are being formally taught. It’s taught to them by the words and experiences of their parents, grandparents and others. Taught to them in books that are not a part of their formal curriculum. Taught to them by their own experiences. Yet all of this is quite dismissible in the court of white public opinion.
I’m convinced that far too many people out there still tacitly hold on to history as learned through elementary-school eyes. From 1619 up until now, almost every American protagonist they read about had impeccable personable character, impeccable personal motives. The reasons behind any and every subsequent conflict which subsequently erupted—whether external (the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam) or internal (the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Mexican wars)—had clear cut beginnings, clear cut enemies, and clear-cut, pat endings. No matter what the shameful episode entails, American nobility remains intact. Dissenters—especially if you are black—need not be considered. This is what is so infuriating to much of black America—that hegemonic white value system that informs public discourse assumes to be the final arbiter on what is logical, what is moral, what is truthful—and what is not.
"History is a Lie, Agreed Upon"- Napoleon Bonaparte.
Ignorance is not unlike a virus. It can attack silently. As time marches on, it spreads. Whether it’s the human body or the body of the public at large, disease unchecked leads to ruin.
The mainstream, corporate-owned press has perniciously hounded Senator Obama on what is arguably a frivolous issue—his pastor said something that he disagreed with. It has turned into the linchpin issue of his candidacy. Will he disown this man? Will working-class whites turn on him and vote for Hillary—or McCain? Little focus is on the genuine issues of ending the wars overseas, addressing health care access, addressing youth education, addressing employment, addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic—So you don’t agree that AIDS was a government plot? Fine. Still, for all the money being spent in Iraq, no one can tell me that the U.S. government has genuinely made solving this crisis a top priority—carp at me all you want, but I can’t say that I expect U.S. pharmaceutical corporations to dive-in with everything they have, as long as a ‘cocktail’ is more profitable quarterly than a vaccine. The people who want to bash Rev. Wright for being a ‘conspiracy theorist’ are not remotely as willing to bash George Bush, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and company for the lies that they have collectively told that have cost the country billions in money and multiple thousands in lives.
Discernment is a character trait that I would love to be able to condense into a serum and just give away (hopefully Bayer, Pfizer or Glaxo-Smith-Kline won’t come after me). I’m simply not buying the notion that the reporters needling Dr. Wright and Senator Obama are just doing their jobs: The job of truly bringing balanced coverage and sensible commentary about the real issues Americans face is not happening, and I wonder if it ever will.