I am suffering from Election Fatigue Syndrome (EFS). My passion for the Obama/Clinton Death Cage Match has begun to wane under the daily onslaught of what Elizabeth Drew in the most recent issue of The New York Review of Books aptly described as “molehill politics.” A tiny mistake or misstatement by the candidate, or a supporter is spun by the opposition, and then repeated by the braying jackass commentators as further evidence that the candidate is corrupt, stupid, hypocritical, etc. It won’t be long before the candidate’s dental hygiene will be placed in issue. (Does Obama floss? The full story on Fox at 10.)
But the controversy over the statements by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s pastor for the last 20 years at Trinity United Church of Christ, was fascinating and provides a valuable insight into the sad state of race in our country.
Five years ago, Rev. Wright preached, “The government gives them [blacks] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America’. No, no, no, Goddamn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”
Now Obama initially tried to explain that Rev. Wright is like some crazy, but lovable uncle, but the Clinton camp and the electronic jackals were having none of it, and lucky for all of us, Obama gave a wonderful speech on race in Philadelphia on March 18. If you have not had a chance to read it, please do so. It has to be one of the most serious, objective, yet personal speeches a presidential candidate has ever given on this very complex subject that still so tragically divides us.
Obama makes clear in his speech that “the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow” can directly explain the disparities that exist in the African-American community today, particularly for young black men. Perhaps Rev. Wright had these numbers in mind when he gave his incendiary sermon:
Homicide is the number one cause of death for black men between 15 and 29 years of age and has been for decades.
Of the roughly 16,000 homicides in this country each year, more than half are committed by black men. A black man is seven times more likely to commit a murder (excluding military actions) than a white man, and six times more likely to be murdered.
Ninety-four percent of all black people who are murdered are murdered by other black people.
The life expectancy of black men is 69 years compared to 75 for white men, 80 for white women, and 76 for black women.
In the past several decades, the suicide rate among young black men has increased more than 100 percent.
In some cities, black males have high school drop-out rates of more than 50 percent.
Young black men are twice as likely to be unemployed as white, Hispanic, and Asian men.
Although black people make up just 12 percent of the general population, they make up nearly 44 percent of the prison population.
At any given time, as many as one in four of all young black men are in the criminal justice system-in prison or jail, on probation, or on parole.
By the time they reach their mid-30s, six out of 10 black high school dropouts have spent time in prison.
About one-third of the homeless are black men.
(See Come on People by Bill Cosby and Alvin F. Poussant, M.D., pp 8-9.)
Two hundred and fifty years of slavery, that peculiar institution wherein men, women and children are owned and traded like livestock, deeply stained forever the grand American experiment in democracy wherein all men are created equal according to its founding documents. Or maybe Rev. Wright was thinking about America’s inner cities.
“The social isolation and negative perception of urban ghettos is a leading example of racial stigma at work in America today. These black ghetto dwellers are a people apart, ridiculed for their cultural styles, isolated socially, experiencing an internalized sense of despair, with limited access to communal networks of mutual assistance. The purported criminality, sexual profligacy, and intellectual inadequacy of these people are the frequent objects of public derision. It does not require enormous powers of perception to see how this symbolic degradation ties in with the history of race relations in the United States.” (The Anatomy of Racial Inequality, Loury, Glenn C., p. 77)
Ms. Clinton’s response was: “Rev. Wright would not have been my pastor. You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend.” That was better than the right-wing patriots who couldn’t believe anyone, let alone a minister, would rhetorically condemn the land of the free and the home of the brave. Both responses were almost laughably pathetic as examples of just how clueless many white Americans are on complex matters concerning race.
Rev. Wright need not have invoked God’s wrath on America. God has long damned America for the terrible sin of slavery.