Pastor Wright, It’s Time to Dance with What There Is

jeremiah-wright.gifSo let’s see now. We’ve had the flag pins, the “bitter” bit, some moldy-oldie urban guerrilla nobody ever heard of, and now, the rather large, open, and self-involved mouth of Pastor Jeremiah Wright. And THAT is what’s stamped “URGENT” at this late date in presidential primary season.

This, while we also have gasoline at four-plus dollars a gallon; four thousand-plus American troop deaths in Iraq; a war that only grows worse with no end in sight; a surge that isn’t working but is making us less safe; 47 million Americans without health insurance; millions of others facing foreclosure, possible homelessness and bankruptcy; habeas corpus still M.I.A.; torture as our newest export (and a president and his most elite inner circle members who planned and approved it); and a drowned Southern city that’s still waiting for resuscitation.

We also have the prolonged and nagging inequities that African-Americans and women of all colors still have to cope with to this very day – issues that legitimately need and deserve to be addressed. And we finally have a legitimate candidate uniquely positioned to reach across long-running racial divides and make an impact for the better. Yet we’re still stuck on the cheap thrills and spills, and one hugely overinflated ego.

I’m glad Barack Obama finally said “Enough!” and expressed real outrage about the inflammatory statements of Pastor Wright. I wish the Reverend would stop trying to make things worse. He’s had plenty of legitimate points to stress through the years. Any mature, intelligent, discerning, and fully honest American who listens objectively to his entire speeches instead of hyperventilating over a few incendiary clips taken out of context would see this. They’d even find a lot with which to agree, even if reluctantly. But Wright has been overdoing it. And his excesses are threatening to shoot his own activism – and Obama’s campaign – in the foot.

This whole mess reminds me of a couple of lines delivered by the late Lee Remick in a 1980 film called “The Competition.” Remick played an elegant older woman/teacher/mentor to Amy Irving’s ingenue piano prodigy. Irving’s character was dating a competitor (played by a much younger and sexier RIchard Dreyfuss) in a prestigious international piano competition. Irving won, but at the post-contest party, she laid low and played wallflower rather than approach Dreyfuss for a dance for fear that he just wouldn’t be able to cope or understand. Seeing her sad-sack posture, Lee Remick gently scolded: “it’s going to take 100 years for nature to evolve the kind of man you have in mind. In the meantime, get out there and dance with what there is!”

My point is this: Okay, fine, Barack Obama isn’t perfect. Perhaps he’s not the avenging angel that Jeremiah Wright would prefer – arriving on some blazing chariot with fiery sword, slaying every dragon that’s stalled the long slow climb upward to full equality for African-Americans – Right This Minute!!! That’s not going to happen. But never before in our whole history have we been closer to that – than we are now. Never before have we had a genuinely viable black candidate for President. Never before have African-Americans seen a realistic and practical way into the Oval Office, and not just as visitors, either.

Maybe Pastor Wright is trying to drive home a point, or to provoke, or just brazenly to hog the spotlight. Whatever his motives, all he’s really doing at this point is peeing in the pickle barrel. He’s reversing all the positive work he’s tried to do over the decades, and threatening to derail the one campaign that actually could address some of the issues that most grievously beset the black community as well as the poor, and the disenfranchised of all stripes.

Pastor Wright, PLEASE don’t add more insult to injury. We’ve already had more than enough, as a nation. If you won’t listen to cooler heads, at least consider what Lee Remick told her young protege in that movie. It will take nature at least another 100 years to evolve the kind of revolutionary you have in mind. So in the meantime, get out there and dance with what there is.


  1. says

    Hi, this is Sharon. I just read your piece after having dinner with my mother and little brother (who, incidentally, was born at the tail end of 1967 — I’ll talk about why his birth year is germane in a minute). By the way, both my mother and brother are black.

    First of all, as a black woman, I saw nothing in your piece (neither the terminology nor content) that was offensive. I read it before reading your email (where you specifically mentioned not wanting to offend). I think know what you are talking about when you say you don’t want to “offend or upset” but I honestly did not have a gut reaction to any of the language you used in this piece.

    Coincidentally, tonight, Dick and I went to a People of Color meeting at our church (a Unitarian Universalist church in Pasadena that is 99% white, 75% upper middle class). In an attempt to compliment me, one of the non-black members (when characterizing his experience of getting to “know” a black person) described me as being white with black make-up. He was attempting to convey how stereotypes melt away when you get to people — he was trying to say that race disappears when your in relationship with one another.

    That would have been fine but what he ended up conveying is that “white” is the standard for goodness. By attempting to complement me by saying that I was white (with black make-up) reiterated a message I’ve heard my whole life — if you’re white, you’re right; if you’re black, get back. He didn’t know he was giving me a back-handed compliment.

    You didn’t do anything like this in your piece. I am not saying that because I wasn’t offended, no one will be, but at least you ran it by me (a black woman raised in the “hood” who is not alien to the “black experience”).

    Now to my brother. He would have written your piece verbatim if he had your talent — that’s how aligned you were with him on this issue. The two of you agree completely. My brother Martin, my husband Dick, and I debated the Rev Wright issue tonight over the dinner table. My brother felt strongly that Rev. Wright needs to put a sock in it until after the primary and general elections are over. My brother also questioned Rev. Wright’s motives.

    Dick and I, on the other hand, did not agree completely with my brother or with you — although I believe that you and my brother make a legitimate point that needs to be made. I won’t speak for Dick, but I think Rev Wright might be on the path he’s on because he’s seizing the opportunity to bring to the fore the great injustices done to a significant number of Americans (most of which also happen to be black). This opportunity might not resurface in his lifetime and it is impossible to determine the fruit he might reap (most likely in the far off future).

    Mary, I only wanted to respond to your very well-written, very well reasoned article. I didn’t want to write a book. But there will be those, myself included, who have lived lives that have given us an additional viewpoint, in other words, a different perspective. Back to my brother’s birth year: he was a few months old when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, he doesn’t have a firm grasp on some of the things Rev Wright is discussing (the Tuskegee syphillis experiements for example). Do you have to live through these things to have an appreciation for what Rev. Wright might be trying to accomplish? I don’t know.

    You asked a simple question. My answer is you’ve done it again — written a great piece. Dick and I will proudly post it. And if anyone attacks it, I will defend your right to express this opinion. I will also say I hear where you are coming from and I applaud you for voicing it so beautifully.

    But, the race debate is far from over. This country must address this wound. And I, a black middle-class professional woman who lives somewhat comfortably in mainstream America, feels the pain of this wound everyday (I am not exaggerating). Imagine how the fringe dwellers of our society experience it. Maybe Rev. Wright has them in mind.

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