Spring has been awfully tardy this year and it appears that “Obama for President” signs are springing up with greater alacrity than dandelions on front lawns in Oak Park.

Without a doubt, the Obama candidacy is a great victory for a nation that has moved from “colored” toilets and water fountains, to an African American with a serious shot at the White House in less than 50 years. Still, the shrill tone of the race rhetoric in this election season reminds us how far we all have to go to live in a society where persons from all ethnic backgrounds enjoy both equal opportunity and equal accountability.

No one in the public eye as often as Barack Obama can expect to escape the microscopic scrutiny of a free press, and no candidate should hide behind charges of racism when legitimate topics surface. It is not racist to question the loyalty shown by a potential president of the
United States of America to a pastor who clearly vocalizes his hatred for the majority of its people. I refer, of course, to the Obama family membership in Chicago‘s Trinity Church and his avowed personal loyalty to Pastor Jeremiah Wright.

As tapes of Pastor Wright’s hate-filled homilies circulated, Obama was forced to distance himself and finally to separate. Nevertheless, Wright apologists have defended his sermons and predictably tarred his critics as racists. Recent viewpoints in Wednesday Journal have presented several arguments on Pastor Wright’s behalf. Some are themselves terribly racist in content, as they treat whole groups of individual human beings as sharing mass responsibility for actions they did not commit, accusing them of emotions they do not feel, minimizing the sufferings of others to emphasize their own deprivations, claiming the institution of slavery continues to cripple generations of African Americans, and frankly, giving a hypocritical windbag a pass he does not deserve. Let’s take them one by one.

Nicole Trottie, an editor of the West Suburban Journal, wrote, “Whites cannot expect to heal the wounds their ancestors opened without first acknowledging that they, too, enjoy compounded interest and advantages from the original sin [slavery].” Whose ancestors? Not mine! Mine did not come over until 50 years after slavery ended and then like most immigrants settled in the north.

My parents never supported racial segregation. In 1960 they sold our home to a mixed race couple, breaking the block so to speak, because it was the right thing to do. A few years later, when my dad opened his own business, his first employee was an African-American man. The slave-owning South was a sparsely populated, mostly rural region, and only one quarter of that small Caucasian population actually owned any slaves at all. At the start of the Civil War, there were about 4 million slaves. By contrast, 9 million Europeans immigrated to the
United States in the last decade of the 19th century alone. Why must their descendants be forced to share some sort of collective ancestral guilt?

Ms. Trottie asserts that white folks are quick to forget Africans did not come to this continent as immigrants but as cargo. She apparently has no problem painting a whole group with a wide brush; again, who, specifically, forgets this? Children learn this fact in every school in the country. A whole month of the year is dedicated to the history of the African people in the
United States. Television and radio stations make public service announcements recounting black history during this month. The history of no other ethnic group, with the possible exception of the early English settlers, is given this type of exposure.

While arriving as slaves certainly makes the African-American experience unique and sorrowful, we want to be careful that we do not play down the anguish of other people who came to these shores by implying that they were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, anxious to make their fortunes on streets paved with gold.

The Irish came when 750,000 men, women and children were wiped out by the potato famine and another 2 million were forced to flee just to survive. They were greeted in
New York by signs in windows that said, “No Irish need apply.”

Jews from
Eastern Europe came to escape institutionalized anti-Semitism, including pogroms that allowed whole neighborhoods to be slaughtered in Russia, and the “final solution” of the Third Reich. Germans, Italians, Poles, and other groups came to escape war and starvation.

They left behind all they knew and loved, often to be treated with misunderstanding and bigotry. My family tells the story of a great aunt through marriage who was forced to marry a man who was already in the States because he would send money back to the old country. She sobbed as she kissed her mother good-bye, declaring, “I’ll never see you again.” She never did! We must never make light of the suffering of these people to justify the actions of others.

Insinuating that slavery is the root cause of problems facing the African-American community is an example of prejudice at its worst. It implies that individuals are so crippled by the sad circumstances of their ancestors that they are unable to take their rightful place in society. This implication diminishes the human dignity and potential of individual African Americans and overlooks the enormous accomplishments of, to name only a handful: Thurgood Marshall, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Mary McCloud Bethune, Thomas Sowell, Maya Angelou, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, Shelby Steele, Gwendolyn Brooks, Percy Julian, Clarence Thomas and of course, Barack Obama.

Finally we come to Rev. Jeremiah Wright himself. Although I understand he served his country honorably in the military and has done enormous good in his community, as a fellow Christian I am appalled that he would call upon the Almighty to damn the American people, or any people, for any reason, hyperbole notwithstanding.

Rev. Donald Register asks Wednesday Journal readers to recall Pastor Wright’s “40-year prophetic ministry of compassion, mercy and justice.” As a native of
New York, I will tell you those years are tough to remember, when I hear Pastor Wright dub the death of 2,819 human beings on Sept. 11, 2001 as “America‘s chickens coming home to roost.” Ms. Trottie blames these remarks on the pastor’s frustration at the poverty of his flock.

That also strains credibility, considering that the reverend is choosing to spend his retirement not roosting with the brothers on the Southside, but rather playing 18 holes with suburbanites. A cynic might wonder if $1.6 million would not do a world of good for his congregation at
Trinity Church. Why then is Pastor Wright spending it for a 10,340-square-foot home in lily-white Tinley Park that includes a butler’s pantry, whirlpool, and four-car garage in a gated community? Did I mention it borders a golf course?

Just imagine an Irish-American priest gloating over the 2005 bombing in London’s underground, calling it just deserts for the disgraceful British treatment of Irish Catholics. I have never heard such remarks, but I promise you, if I did, I would get up and leave the church in protest. I would also rat out the priest to the Cardinal. Before they vote for president,
Oak Park voters and all Americans have the right to know why Barack Obama sat in those pews for 20 years.

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