How to Keep Your Eye Off the Ball

As our economy begins to free fall and the official U.S death toll in Iraq exceeds 4,000, the majority of U.S citizens have their eyes on other issues. What are they discussing? For many, the most emotive and fiery comments from an Illinois African American pastor made a few years ago.

We can contextualize Jeremiah Wright’s comments in light of the social history of African Americans, or in regard to the U.S White European pastoral and ministerial traditions in the United States. Either context would reveal that Wright’s comments are not too out of the ordinary, but the media and political reactions are. African Americans found a safe forum to discuss their social dilemmas and problems in their churches. Here was where they found safe and open dialogue about the incredibly high rates of teenage murders, imprisonments, drug problems, and poverty for African Americans. Although the NAACP was founded in 1909, it has only been 40 years since the Civil Rights movement and social traditions do not dissipate overnight.

Some argue that politics should not belong behind the religious pews in the United States, nor should Wright’s use of the Bible to condemn the United States government. But this has been a tradition for White ministers and pastors all across the country for decades. It was not too long ago that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson faulted the United State’s position on gays as the reason for 9/11. But again, their comments are not uncommon. Religion has always been a means to discuss politics and always will.

As I write this commentary, Tibetans are being skirted away under oppressive military measures in China, the democratic leader and Nobel Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi is living under house arrest as the Burmese junta markets opium for their own profit, child soldiers continue to wage violence in countries like Uganda, and other African countries like Zimbabwe and Kenya face difficult and arduous hurdles in their own democratic developments.

Here at home we are facing financial challenges that we have not seen in over 20 years. Much of this has to do with one of our wars in the Middle East. The current cost of the U.S war in Iraq is over $500,000,000,000, and leaves our government with little combat our domestic problems, specifically the economy. One recent indication of our limited economic muster comes from our Federal Reserve, which has stretched itself to new lengths to back failing Wall Street firms. It is the perception of a strong and stable economy that has enabled transnational businesses and countries to invest in the United States and its U.S dollar. That image of a strong and stable economy is evaporating quickly, and as it is happening our country is caught up in a discussion about a pastor.

  • Babs

    It seems the nation as a whole has a bit of ADD lately, doesn’t it? I have a theory, simple minded though it may be, that people push aside issues they can’t fully grasp the magnitude of, and become entrenched in issues they can more easily understand and relate to. The race for the Democratic nominee is becoming little more than a daily soap opera on Utube, and if we don’t aspire to the larger issues soon gross misjudgment will dominate the voting polls and our country will pay the price. Simple language on complex issues is what it will take to get the average American’s attention away from the soap opera, and on to the problems that face us all as individuals. The vast majority of voters in America are not rogue scholars – the candidates should try talking to them in plain english. Just my .02 on the subject.

  • Babs

    *LOL* Perhaps I should count myself among the simple language population, how about a rhodes scholar, not a rogue, although that might fit more than a few. =)

  • Michael

    Babs, I think it is important to talk in a way that people understand you. But also, I think it is important not to talk down to them– nor to display a ‘common intellect.’ I would prefer to have a very intelligent president, not an ‘average joe’ running the White House, since I feel adequately performing jobs and duties demand a strong intelligence.

    Elocution has been one of the means of assessing people’s intelligences.

  • Babs

    Michael, I certainly don’t advocate patronizing or insulting anyone’s intelligence, and I’m not really meaning to refer to a level of intellect here, common or otherwise. Of course we want an intelligent President, not an average joe. Elocution is indeed a means of assessing a person’s intelligence, but here’s where we begin to differ in our opinions. It’s the candidate’s intellect we have to judge, not the voters. Yet it’s the voters that must be reached, not the candidate.

    It’s my contention that Obama has won the level of support he has because he reaches people on a more common level. Not because he’s talking down to them or patronizing them, but because he’s talking straight to them in everyday conversational language. A sermon/speech he will make on the senate floor, as compared to a sermon/speech he will make to a crowd of college students or church crowd is an example of the diversity of his language, and to quote the man himself “Don’t tell me words don’t matter”. Obama gets this, and he uses the power of words to try and reach ALL voters. This doesn’t diminish his intellect, it heightens it. That being said, I understand completely his message and reject it, but that’s not the point.

    John McCain does the same thing, though not as much. For example, he speaks of pork barrel spending in a way that anyone can understand what it is, and why it’s sucking the life out of the budget. Doesn’t minimize his intellect at all, but it broadens the voters’ knowledge and understanding, and gives the possibility of a vote for him.

    I can’t think of an example for Clinton right now, but I’m sure there’s one lying around somewhere.

    So, Michael, I don’t think we’re disagreeing here, although it’s a lot of fun when we do. =) I think I just did a poor job of presenting my opinion, perhaps. Or maybe we do disagree, in which case I’ll be glad to debate the issue with you on whatever intellectual plane you choose. I’m pretty darn fluent at most any level, being I went to college and all myself. *L*

  • Michael, “That image of a strong and stable economy is evaporating quickly, and as it is happening our country is caught up in a discussion about a pastor”. Do you really believe that the hate filled, white bashing, rhetoric was not important? Because of this one man and his incendiary comments America is in an uproar and racial tension is spreading.

    Here’s a list of racial, sexist, and just plain hate filled comments that this man has spewed, watch both videos in full so you don’t miss any of his greatest hits:

    I am so sick of hearing that race exists and is a real problem, of course there’s racism that exists when there’s loons like this allowed to roam free. I know I may take flack for uploading these videos from Fox News, but America you have to turn off the Liberal Propaganda to find out what’s really going on. This is a hateful mentality and a presidential candidate is associated with. Sorry but that sends up red flags for me.

    This man disgusted me, he better change his tune or he is going straight to somewhere other then Heaven.

  • Michael

    CG: you sound as if you are taking this very personally. This metacognitive response could be examined more closely if you feel up to it.

    I take objection to your use of ‘hate,’ as you are using it for a context and for speeches that are angry, inflammatory, and very insensitive, but in this do not then translate as hateful. Hate speech has been applied to the Neo-Nazis in their calls to eradicate other people, to dismiss the humanity of people based upon their skin color, religion, or ethnicity. Hate speech has been applied to people like Louis Farrakhan, who calls Jews part of the “Synagogue of Satan,” and gays a “damned group” that do not deserve human rights.

    In almost every case from the clip you provided, Jeremiah Wright was directing his ire at the U.S government, not a group of people. In some instances, he talks about white supremacy, which is in fact the case in the United States. If you feel saying “white supremacy” equals hateful speech, then let me ask you this: if there is a supremacy in a country, what do you think is the “appropriate” way for people to discuss it. His words are inflammatory, perhaps unpatriotic, but these do not mean hateful (unless it is hateful for a government structure, in which case we are talking about systems, not people).

    This entire media structure is racist– I have never seen FOX NEWS run this sort of gambit on any White pastor or minister that runs with the Republicans (and there are many, and many many racist, homophobic, and sexist remarks by them) for many years. They could run a lot on John McCain’s religious advisers, but they do not.

    When an African American criticizes the U.S government for racist tendencies and expresses his anger, you accuse him of being hateful? I don’t believe you’re aware of the episodes Wright talked about in these clips, nor do I think you are aware of the hegemonic influence Whites have in this country. Hegemony is invisible, by the very nature of the term, and is implicit in our actions.

    Why is straight hair lauded, and the African American hair “ghetto.”? Why do our dictionaries applaud “white” and list denigrations of “black”? Why was Clarence Thomas railed by a Democratic Congress to see if he was “black enough” to fulfill Justice Thomas’s shoes, but if he was not too Black to represent the United States- but did not ask Alito or Roberts if they were too White? Why are white jurors the ones least dismissed and considered least biased by prosecutors and defense attorneys (see Minnow for this)?

    I can fill many books with examples, everyday ones, that permeate our legal system, our education system, and our businesses, that reflect racial inequalities- but then there are books already written on this. If you have not already, read bell hooks, Cornel West, James Baldwin, or others who have talked about this in detail. Read W. E. B Dubois, who wrote over 100 years ago that the defining problem of the 20th century is the color-line.

    The only red flags that interest me are the ones that were 3 months delayed by our State Department when they became are that U.S Senators’ social security numbers and other personal information were acquired.

  • Michael

    Babs – I agree with you. 🙂

  • Babs

    Michael, whew! I run out of arguments with you fairly quickly, I’m glad we agree. =)

    I’ll leave you and CG to duke this one out, except to say I think Hannity really took exception to Wright in a lot of ways that weren’t racist – Hannity went to seminary school himself and took great exception to Wright calling his spewings a biblical interpretation. I’m in Hannity’s corner on this one.