Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 30, 2008

The Wright Stuff, Part II

I was going to title this post The Wright Stuff, but the good folks at Slate magazine beat me to the punch yesterday. Michael Weiss put together a very good overview article linking to other blogs and articles about Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s recent antics, and Obama’s repudiation of Wright yesterday (finally…) . I’ve watched the clips of Wright at the NAACP, and the hand-wringing on various news talks shows; I’ve read still more about the whole flap, and now the verdict is in: Wright’s a crackpot.

It’s a bit unfortunate that Wright’s smattering of legitimate liberation theology/public policy criticisms will now be lost for most people, in a “consider the source” kind of easy dismissal. But at least he went far enough last week that it’s clear to just about everyone he doesn’t represent Obama, or even a majority of African American opinions. In fact, the phrase “off the reservation” has been heard more than once on the cable news shows.

One bonus: people on both sides of the aisle, and of both races, have finally found something to agree on. For example:

Andrew Sullivan (a gay Republican/Libertarian, and yet interestingly a supporter of Obama this time around), says this:

“This was a calculated, ugly, repulsive, vile display of arrogance, egotism, and self-regard.”

Joe Klein, a mainstream liberal writing in Time magazine’s Swampland, is worried:

“Wright’s purpose now seems quite clear: to aggrandize himself–the guy is going to be a go-to mainstream media source for racial extremist spew, the next iteration of Al Sharpton–and destroy Barack Obama.”

I haven’t heard many blacks stepping up to defend Wright anymore, either. Maybe because he had the gall to let slip in a very public forum some of the more outlandish “theories” that usually get tossed around by disgruntled minorities only behind closed doors. So by getting laughed out of the big tent, Wright may have unwittingly exposed a dirty family secret of sorts. In a way he’s worse than Sharpton, because Wright clearly enjoys tweaking conventional fears — especially white fears, but also secular ones, and Jewish ones, and conservative ones. By now it’s clear that Wright is simply loving the attention — like one of my grade school students who discovers with glee that making a fart sound with his palm in his armpit will amuse his peers all day, every day.

Ultimately, it may be good that this weird part of certain African American subcultures is being brought out in the open in April, rather than in October when it could be much more damaging. As some of the non-religious bloggers and forum commenters are saying, they are not overly alarmed by extremist remarks made by sensationalist religious figures. That’s what they’ve come to expect from the church, unfortunately. The reasonable voices (like Jimmy Carter, the benchmark for centrist, peaceable Christianity), always get drowned out by the way that the extremists make for better television ratings and easier water-cooler discussions.

And that’s what bugs me the most. Because as a liberal Christian with a few radical tendencies of my own, I don’t need another stone around my neck like Jeremiah Wright, when I’ve already got plenty of people judging my faith on the basis of what Pat Robertson and the Religious Right have put out there over the years. Convincing people that the changes Wright wants are worth looking into is hard enough, without having to deal with his blatant paranoia and reverse racism. 
But make no mistake: I have no problem with a fiery prophet of lamentations and political conviction. It’s just that whole “crazy Uncle Jerry” thing I think we could all do without.




  1. Dead on. I’d guess that AA’s are afraid to say anything——they see the fragility of their candidate’s future. Ironically, I see more whites coming to the defense. But then again, isn’t it easier that way?

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