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Farrakhan - Jeremiah Wright Dilemma:
Race, Religion and the Politics of Repudiation
Between The Lines
By Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, PhD
You know Barack
Obama is getting close to being the Democratic Party’s Nominee (and
the favorite to become the next President of the United States) when
your opponents and the media begin to grasp for straws to undermine
his candidacy. Last week, when Obama took the lead in the polls in Texas,
the Clinton campaign announced its “kitchen-sink” strategy (stating
they were going to throw everything at Barack, including the kitchen
sink). The debate in Cleveland was supposed to be Hillary’s last stand,
with Texas and Ohio being the firewall for that firestorm called, Obama-mania.
The debate soon became a watershed moment as Obama was forced to acquiesce
to racial perceptions of community and spiritual leaders that brought
forth calls for repudiation. Meanwhile, John McCain had similar leaders
make similar statements, without calls of repudiation. Who decides whose
views are permanently intolerable and whose views can be periodically
retractable? Last week demonstrated how the expanse of support and rejection
goes according to race, religion and politics in America.
The tone of the
latest Democratic debate changed quite quickly when Meet The Press’,
Tim Russert, asked Obama about Minister Louis Farrakhan’s favorable
analysis of Barack’s candidacy at the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviour’s
Day Convention. While Minister Farrakhan’s statements were not an official
endorsement, they implied the Minister clearly favored Obama’s candidacy.
Russert and the mainstream media certainly took it as an endorsement.
It would be a helluva endorsement to have, given Minister Farrakhan’s
stature and influence among the poor and disenfranchised - the very
segment in which Hilary Clinton was supposed to have an advantage. No
single individual has done more, in the post-King era, to articulate,
in a sustained way, the plight of the masses as has Minister Farrakhan.
No individual, black or white, demonstrated the ability to mobilize
Black America and get more than a million (closer to two - that number
America will never acknowledge) to a march for spiritual atonement -
the very thing of which America is sorely in need. Yet, all the good
Minister Farrakhan has done in the last 25 years to rehabilitate ex-offenders,
stop urban violence, build families and encourage personal responsibility
went for naught, as Russert went to a statement Farrakhan had made 24
years ago that offended the Jewish community.
Based on that one
statement, both Russert and Clinton (sensing an opening) called on Obama,
not just to denounce AND reject Farrakhan statements but Farrakhan himself.
Obama “conceded the point,” clearly an uncomfortable moment watching
him get twisted on someone who has huge street cred in the black community.
They then turned to Obama’s personal spiritual leader, the Rev. Dr.
Jeremiah Wright, and his association with Farrakhan as well as the church’s
nationalist practices and suggested that Obama’s associations are “suspect.”
Obama ignored calls to criticize Wright. Both Farrakhan and Wright have
given non-hostile critiques of Judaism, and neither has advocated attack
on Israel - yet both have been labeled “anti-Semitic” for their comments.
However, the post debate commentary suggested that Obama was somehow
connected to hate mongers and radicals, part of the “what do we really
know Obama” fear campaign. Minister Farrakhan, who has seen it all before,
issued a statement telling the public to affirm their support of Obama,
despite his rejection of the Minister’s support - calling the whole
inquiry “mischief making,” for the purposes of hurting Obama’s campaign.
Clearly it was meant to pit supporters (Blacks and Jews) against each
other - but at what point does what somebody has said in the past matter?
And does repudiation mitigate what the candidate stands for (or against)?
nominee, John McCain, stated he would not repudiate and welcomed the
endorsement of Rev. John Hagee, who has made some extremely hostile
and volatile anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim statements in the past three
years. There is a great difference in the expectation of how the media
and the mainstream require black leaders and white leaders to reject
those who may offend our religious and racial sensibilities.
Six years ago,
in 2002, Mississippi Senator, Trent Lott, made racist statements at
a retirement party for Strom Thurmond, suggesting that had more people
supported the former segregationist’s “States Rights” Party in 1948
(as Mississippi did) “we wouldn’t have had all these problems” (inferring
that the ensuing Civil Rights movement would have been somehow forestalled).
Lott, the incoming Senate Majority Leader, was forcing to resign his
leadership post, but then he was given the post of Senate Minority Whip
last year. Oregon Senator, Gordon Smith, defended Lott’s remarks last
year when Lott announced he was retiring in 2008. Smith called the remarks
“big hearted warmness.” Yeah, for ugly days gone by. The media frequently
refers to Farrakhan as racist, but Trent Lott has been referred to as
a “Segregation Nostalgist.”
the conservative right which McCain is desperately trying to secure.
Though thoroughly discredited, McCain called Lott (in 2005) “the finest
Majority Leader we’ve ever had.” Lott has campaigned for McCain several
times in 2008. The point of raising the issue is to ask the question,
who forgave Trent Lott for offending a whole race just a few years ago,
and who withholds Farrakhan’s forgiveness for doing the same thing (offending
a religion) a quarter century ago? It is inconsistent, at the least,
to suggest that African Americans don’t have to same ability of what
Dr. Cornel West called the day after the debate, “critical discernment”
in separating the good a person does, and embracing it, from the bad
a person does, and rejecting it.
Black America is
often called upon to throw the whole baby out with the bath water, while
whites can clean up their offenders and roll them back out with a renewed
sense of support. Obama could have handled the question better, but
since the media couldn’t find anything else to bite him on, they bit
him on the Farrakhan question - waiting to see if he would gave them
a reason not to trust him. Obama bit on the question, and guess what?
Many still won’t (don’t) trust him. The politics of repudiation requires
Blacks (black men, in particular) to reject anything that might be critical
of race and religion in America. It’s a dilemma that Obama, and others,
will have to overcome - that dual standard for who can be your friends,
what is said to offend and how one repudiates support.
Then again, as
you can see, it depends on who they offend and who’s doing the offending.
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Vernellia Randall. All Rights Reserved
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