Wright & Wrong and Race in America

Posted on April 17, 2008


A new video on YouTube has emerged that gives a fuller context of one of Wright’s sermons; the famous “chickens are coming home to roost” message. You can see the sermon here. Will Samson has blogged about it here.

While the new video does give a contextualized look at this sermon, it doesn’t necessarily dismiss Wright completely in all of his statements that have aired. Just watching him on Fox helps to frame addition context that must also be taken into consideration. While immediate media context is helpful, there is another context that I believe is more important.

In light of the criticism and applause that Obama has received for his increasingly famous speech on Race in America, a friend and I have narrowed to two specific questions of which I would like to add to the discussion. 1) Who is more justified in their response to the reality of tense racial relations: Barack’s white grandmother who held prejudice against blacks, or Jeremiah Wright and his condemning preaching? 2) How does one address the problem: through dealing first with the facts (statistical studies and data), or dealing first with the attitudes (the heart, the stories, the perceptions)? The two are very much related. My contention is simple, and perhaps along the lines of what Obama was communicating. We must begin first with the attitudes, and the perceptions. In other words we must begin to tell stories and develop relationships that differ from reality (statistical or otherwise), no matter what the facts are. That is how things change.

Though there may be good data to point to the statistical probability of crime and other kinds of degenerate behavior being committed by people of color (minorities), [1] we ought not ignore the power of myth — that is, the stories that are told that perpetuate themselves through a people group and a culture at large that end up becoming “self-fulfilling” prophecies.

While some may suggest that Barack’s grandmother is more justified in this day and age because statistically speaking, the chances of you becoming a victim by a black person are higher than by a white person, we must be committed to a higher sense of calling by responding to the facts in such a way as to discontinue the perpetuating myth that (some may say) “blacks are more prone towards crime.” Obama is being criticized by keeping (what I’ve been calling) “relational sympathies” towards Wright. However, I believe that the conversation is really only influenced in this way. We cannot continue to decry each other and tally the stats, or shall I say “count up wrongs against each other.” Relational sympathies help us move past the the deeply held beliefs that either a) blacks still feel oppressed and b) whites feel threatened. As mentioned by Nicholas Kristof in a recent article, “conspiracy theories and irrationality aren’t a black problem. They are an American problem.” And just like it is an American problem, the American solution is to begin to live in such a way — in speech, in action, and in public policy — that we write different stories, and we begin to perpetuate a different kind of myth (the essence of the stories) that believes in a more redeemed sense of humanity. And that, I suggest, is done in confrontation of, and almost in spite of the facts.

[1] I believe people on all sides of the issue agree that this is the case. This is why minorities are reasonably frustrated and upset at the system, and the white majority is fearful. The cycle perpetuates itself.

Posted in: Culture, Race