There is an excellent interview of Dr. Jeremiah Wright, who is now speaking out about the stereotyped and hostile, and mostly white, attacks on him, including the many distortions of his ideas and sermons on racial matters. The interview was done last Friday, April 25, 2008, and I highly recommend it (and the full texts of Dr. Wright’s sermons too), if you want to understand just how white-racist most of the attacks on Dr. Wright have been.
In his interview Moyers asks this question (photo credit):
One of the most controversial sermons that you preach is the sermon you preach that ended up being that sound bite about Goddamn America.
And then provides the listerners with a significant segment from the end of Wright’s sermon:
Where governments lie, God does not lie. Where governments change, God does not change. And I’m through now. But let me leave you with one more thing. Governments fail. The government in this text comprised of Caesar, Cornelius, Pontius Pilate – the Roman government failed. The British government used to rule from East to West. The British government had a Union Jack. She colonized Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Hong Kong. Her navies ruled the seven seas all the way down to the tip of Argentina in the Falklands, but the British government failed. The Russian government failed. The Japanese government failed. The German government failed. And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing God bless America? No, no, no. Not God bless America; God damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizen as less than human. God damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!
Moyers asks: “What did you mean when you said that?” Dr. Wright responds with this rather obvious comment, that is obvious to any open-minded person who listens to the whole prophetic sermon itself (which very few critics have, it seems):
When you start confusing God and government, your allegiances to government -a particular government and not to God, that you’re in serious trouble because governments fail people. And governments change. And governments lie. And those three points of the sermon. And that is the context in which I was illustrating how the governments biblically and the governments since biblical times, up to our time, changed, how they failed, and how they lie. And when we start talking about my government right or wrong, I don’t think that goes. That is consistent with what the will of God says or the word of God says that governments don’t say right or wrong. That governments that wanna kill innocents are not consistent with the will of God. And that you are made in the image of God, you’re not made in the image of any particular government. We have the freedom here in this country to talk about that publicly, whereas some other places, you’re dead if say the wrong thing about your government.
Then they discuss some of these issues further:
BILL MOYERS: Well, you can be almost crucified for saying what you’ve said here in this country.
REVEREND WRIGHT: That’s true. That’s true. But you can be crucified, you can be crucified publicly, you can be crucified by corporate-owned media. But I mean, what I just meant was, you can be killed in other countries by the government for saying that. Dr. King, of course, was vilified. And most of us forget that after he was assassinated, but the year before he was assassinated, April 4th, 1967 at the Riverside Church, he talked about racism, militarism and capitalism. He became vilified. He got ostracized not only by the majority of Americans in the press; he got vilified by his own community. They thought he had overstepped his bounds. He was no longer talking about civil rights and being able to sit down at lunch counters that he should not talk about things like the war in Vietnam.
BILL MOYERS: Lyndon Johnson was furious at that. As you know-
REVEREND WRIGHT: I’m sure he was.
Wright then adds how angry people, many white and some black, got at King for telling the truth about racism and militarism in the Vietnam era (just like today):
And that’s where a lot of the African-American community broke with him, too. He was vilified by Roger Wilkins’ daddy, Roy Wilkins. Jackie Robinson. He was vilified by all of the Negro leaders who felt he’d overstepped his bounds talking about an unjust war. And that part of King is not lifted up every year on January 15th. 1963, “I have a dream,” was lifted up, and passages from that – sound bites if you will – from that march on Washington speech. But the King who preached the end of- “I’ve been to the mountaintop, I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land, I might not get there with you,”- that part of the speech is talked about, not the fact that he was in Memphis siding with garbage collectors. Nothing about Resurrection City, nothing about the poor.
Wright continues by making the point that prophetic critiques of government wrongdoing are morally necessary, and common especially in the Black church. It is time for this country to listen, especially its nonblack citizens (Black Americans seem mostly in agreement with him), for the social science data show that Dr. Wright is right about racism in the United States and about government collusion in that systemic racism to the present day.
Just re-emerging into the world of the news cycle after being sequestered in a book-writing bubble to find this news, along with the news of the Sean Bell verdict. Really disheartening, to put it mildly. Yes, Rev. Wright is correct and there’s lots of data to support him. Yet, when the mainstream media starts trying to cover something as nuanced as “Black Liberation Theology,” I cringe at the disconnect between an informed racial critique and the white racial frame.
I keep thinking about that moment following Hurricane Katrina when Kanye West disrupted the white racial frame by speaking the truth on live, national television. The look on Mike Myers’ face in that moment as Kanye went ‘off-script’ strikes me as very similar to the way that those within the white racial frame respond initially when there are those moments of disruption in a public setting.
Now, of course, that initial shock has turned to glee for many as they delight in what looks like very bad news for the Obama campaign.
I watched Larry King Live last night when they were discussing Wright’s response and it’s implications for Obama’s campaign. What makes me absolutely crazy about racism in the US–and this occurred on the panel last night–is when minorities critique American racism or speak of the frustration and rage it causes, and are then accused by whites of being “hatemongers” or “divisive.” Nothing reveals the white racial frame more clearly than when it enables whites to critique and denigrate oppressed groups for pointing out the fact of their oppression.
I think Adia put her finger right on the key problem:Who has the power to construct what happens in the society? Who controls the media? Who gave us George Bush? Who made a brave Marine with a distinguished record, and a leader in Black America, and a recognized leader and preacher of prophetic messages among US clergy into a target of white racial attack? White “leaders”! And they get off free?
I just discovered your great blog. As you said, Black Americans seem mostly in agreement with Wright. I am wondering if the media-engineered rift between Obama and Wright – meaning Obama’s renunciation of Wright’s philosophy – is partly engineered to drive Black voters away from Obama. What do you think?
Good question, pacific. I am not sure what the main media outlets white executives intended, beyond the usual white fear and hostility toward Black leaders and scholars who tell the truth about white racism. But they certainly fear Obama as a candidate, esp. when he is critical of white and corporate America.