The extreme declarations of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor
of Senator Barack Obama, have led to a widespread discussion of how
familiar the senator was with Wright's views and how he could have
remained a member of such a church for so long. The discussion has
raised the larger issue of the radical liberation theology espoused
by some of the most outspoken clergymen of black churches.
Some of the Rev. Wright's statements -- charging the U.S. government
developed HIV/AIDS to destroy black Americans, or declaring that the
CIA has distributed drugs within the nation's inner cities to harm
the black community -- are demonstrably false. His overall thesis --
our racist society prevents black Americans from advancing -- represents
something of a time-warped view. It is as if segregation had not been
eliminated long ago, as if civil rights legislation going back to l964
had not been passed to ensure the rights of all Americans.
The Politics of Victimhood
"I've known preachers like the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr.," wrote Jonetta
Rose Barras, a political analyst for National Public Radio in THE WASHINGTON
POST. "Like many of them, he no doubt sees his congregation as full of
victims... Once upon a time, I saw myself as a victim, too, destined to march
in place. In the l970s and 1980s, as a clenched-fist-pumping black nationalist...
I reflected that self-contempt in my speech... More than a few times, I, too,
damned America loudly for its treatment of blacks."
As time went by, however, Barras declares that, "I turned away
from such rhetoric... That other African-Americans and I were able
to overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles is undeniably due, in
part, to Wright-like prophetic speech. Like Negro spirituals, it helped
us organize, motivate, and empower ourselves. But just as spirituals
eventually lost their relevance and potency... so, I believe, has Wright-speak
lost its place. It's harmful and ultimately can't provide healing.
And it's outdated in the 2lst century."
In one of his recent syndicated columns, economist Walter Williams
points out that Senator Obama's success "is truly a remarkable
commentary on the goodness of Americans and how far we've come in resolving
matters of race. I'm 72 years old. For almost all my life, a black
having a real chance at becoming the President of the United States
was at best a pipe dream. Mr. Obama has convincingly won primaries
in states with insignificant black populations. As such, it further
confirms what I've often said: The civil rights struggle in America
is over and it's won."
In Williams' view, "While not every single vestige of racial discrimination
has disappeared, Mr. Obama and Mr. Wright are absolutely wrong in suggesting
racial discrimination is anywhere near the major problem confronting
a large segment of the black community. The major problems are family
breakdown, illegitimacy, fraudulent education, and a high rate of criminality.
Confronting these problems, that are not the fault of the larger society,
require political courage..."
True Causes of Poverty
The notions that racial progress in recent years has not been dramatic,
and that our society is mired in the racism and divisions that characterized
earlier periods are simply wrong.
Journalist Juan Williams provides interesting insights in his book,
ENOUGH: The poverty rate for black men and women who finish high school
or college, take a job and hold it, and have children only after 2l
and married is 6.4 percent. This contrasts sharply with the overall
poverty rate for black Americans of 21.5 percent, based on 2002 census
data. By 2004, the poverty rate for those who follow the formula of
education, work, and marriage was 5.8 percent, while the overall poverty
rate for blacks was 24.7 percent. In fact, white Americans have a higher
poverty rate than blacks who finished high school, married, and worked
for at least a year.
The problems within the inner city black community are not the result
of white racism but rather of a breakdown of values within that community.
In 2002, most black children--68 percent--were born to unwed mothers.
These numbers have real consequences. Thirty-five percent of black
women who had children out of wedlock lives in poverty. Only l7 percent
of married black women lives in poverty.
In 2005, l.l million black Americans over age 25 had advanced degrees
compared to about 677,000 in l995. In their recent book, COME ON PEOPLE,
comedian Bill Cosby and psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint declare that, "The
doors of opportunity are no longer locked, and we have to walk through." In
2002, the number of black-owned businesses stood at l.2 million--a
rise of 45 percent since l997.
Rev. Wright is, in many ways, an inauthentic figure. He presents
himself as a spokesman for those who have suffered from poverty, deprivation,
and racism. Yet his own background was decidedly privileged. He lived
in a tree-lined neighborhood of large stone houses in Philadelphia's
Germantown section. Wright's father was a prominent pastor, and his
mother was a teacher and later vice principal of the distinguished
Philadelphia's High School for Girls. Both of Wright's parents earned
Ph.Ds. Wright attended the highly selective and overwhelmingly white
Central High School.
Jeremiah Wright's message has little relationship to the reality
of today's America, which is far more open, tolerant, and accessible
to men and women of all races than his parishioners would ever imagine
from his sermons.
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Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which
is THE REVOLUTION LOBBY (Council for Inter-American Security). He has
been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and
the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.
He is associate editor of THE LINCOLN REVIEW and a contributing editor
to such publications as HUMAN EVENTS, THE ST. CROIX REVIEW, and THE WASHINGTON
REPORT ON MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS.
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