Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Healing the Wounds of Race

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Healing the Wounds of Race

Article excerpt

Barack Obama should win or lose his party's nomination for the presidency based on the positions he takes regarding the great issues of our time and his capacity to lead the country at home and in the world. He must not win or lose because of the old politics of race in the U.S. That would be a tragedy for all of us.

Race exploded into the center of the media debate about the presidential race this spring when cable news stations and talk radio played carefully selected incendiary statements from Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the retiring pastor of Obama's home church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Obama, while affirming the tremendous work his church has clone in his city, condemned the most controversial remarks of his pastor. But the whole situation points to the enormous gap in understanding between the mainstream black community in the U.S. and the experience of many white Americans. That is what we are going to have to heal if we are ever to move forward.

Here is what I mean. There is a deep well of both frustration and anger in the African-0 American community. Those feelings are born of the concrete experience of real oppression, discrimination, and blocked opportunities--opportunities that most of America's white citizens take for granted. African Americans across the spectrum of income and success will speak personally to those feelings of frustration and anger, when white people are willing to listen. But usually we are not. In 2008, to still not comprehend the reality of black frustration and anger is to be in a state of white denial--which, very sadly, is where many white Americans are.

The black church pulpit has historically been a place of prophetic truth-telling about the realities that black people experience. Indeed, the black church has often been the only place where such truths are told. Black preachers have had the pastoral task of nurturing the spirits of people who feel beaten down week after week. Strong and prophetic words from black church pulpits are often a source of comfort and affirmation for black congregations. The truth is that many white Americans would indeed feel uncomfortable with the rhetoric of many black preachers from many black churches all across the country.

The media's use of grainy black-and-white clips of the dashiki-clad Rev. Wright and the angry black male voice was clearly designed to invoke stereotypes and fear. But if you look beyond the images and actually listen to his words about the U.S. being run by "rich white people" while blacks have cabs speeding past them, and about U.S. misdeeds around the world, it's hard to disagree with many of the facts presented. It's rather the angry tone of Wright's comments that provides the offense and the controversy, in addition to some irresponsible affirmations of urban legends such as the government spreading AIDS into the black community.

Ironically, a new generation of black Americans is now eager and ready to move beyond the frustration and anger to a new experience of opportunity and hope. And nobody represents that shift more than Obama. This shift is between an older generation that is sometimes perceived to be stuck in the politics of victimization and grievance and a younger generation that believes that opportunity and progress are now possible--not by ignoring the facts of oppression and discrimination, but by being committed to actually changing them.

Obama represents the hope of dealing with the substance of the issues of injustice while at the same time articulating the politics of hope and even the possibility of racial unity. …

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