2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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3/19/08 Seattle Post-Intelligencer B1

2008 WLNR 5384565

Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)

Copyright 2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer (http://seattlep-i.com). All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

March 19, 2008

Section: News



OUT OF THE 207,000 minutes that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright preached while building Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, a handful of fiery sound bites have fueled a media frenzy and been used to inject race into the center of our 2008 presidential race.

Wright's words have been dubbed "hate speech" by pundits and preachers of the political right, themselves masters at twisting the truth to arouse resentment.

In a Philadelphia speech Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama tried to a) put some distance between himself and his former pastor's rhetoric, b) hold onto his self-respect while c) seeking to honestly evaluate the roots of racial anger in America.

Obama is relentlessly upbeat, arguing that the country can heal its divisions, restore its ability to tackle problems together and marginalize those whose business it has been to deepen those divisions.

"The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society," Obama said in his speech. "It's that he spoke as if our society was static, as if no progress has been made; as if this country is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.

"But what we know - what we have seen - is that America can change. That is (the) true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity of hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow."

Before getting too comfortable with Obama's vision, I decided to read those words to the Rev. Samuel B. McKinney, pastor emeritus at Mount Zion Baptist Church and a longtime friend of Wright.

"We would like to believe that," McKinney reflected. "We want to believe that he (Obama) can lead us there. But we have not gotten there. We have our heads in the sand if we believe otherwise."

The Right Rev. Greg Rickel, Episcopal Bishop of Olympia, noted that the "tragic past" remains personal for many.

"We're going to bring all the baggage of our lives into the conversation," Rickel said. "A preacher brings life experiences to the pulpit. If we don't deepen the dialogue, and be honest with each other, we'll never get anywhere."

McKinney noted, too, that Wright has preached from personal experience.

We so soon forget. Not long ago, Chicago was America's most segregated Northern city. The political machine of Mayor Richard Daley ruled the Windy City. Black voters voted with the machine. "They asked for nothing. Which is exactly what they got," columnist Mike Royko wrote.

Martin Luther King Jr. was bloodied by a rock when he led a 1966 open-housing march into one of Chicago's all-white bungalow neighborhoods. A pair of teenagers held up a sign reading: "ONE WAY TO DEAL WITH N******! EXTERMINATE!"

Or there was the experience of Chicago congressman (and onetime Olympic sprinter) Ralph Metcalfe. He rebelled after cops manhandled a friend while issuing a speeding ticket. Daley gave him the brushoff. Metcalfe discovered that Chicago's finest were dumping off tickets on black motorists.

In Seattle, for some years, my early-morning dog walk coincided with when Walt Hubbard, a longtime leader of the Seattle Urban League, would leave for work. We talked politics. Yours truly played Pollyanna, talking about how our largely white environs had put Norm Rice and Ron Sims in office.

Curb thy pride, Hubbard counseled.

He reminded me of the yearslong battle to pass an open housing ordinance in Seattle. As a mainstay of the Seattle Black Catholic Lay Caucus, he recalled frustrations in rooting out racism and getting the church to deliver a message of empowerment.

This successful, immaculately dressed man suddenly became angry one morning as he talked about the still-unsolved killing of Seattle Urban League President Ed Pratt. My poodle, S'Murphy Brown, raised a paw to his left knee as a gesture of comfort.

Anger at injustice has defined our country's more courageous leaders.

Didn't King describe the Vietnam War as a "demonic suction tube," and the U.S. as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today?" He told striking Memphis garbage workers that "America is going to hell" if it ignored economic injustice.

In Indianapolis, the night of King's assassination, Sen. Robert Kennedy tried to deliver a message of compassion and love. Still, anger memorably crept in.

"For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my heart the same kind of feeling," RFK said. "I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times."

Four decades later, the challenge remains. As Obama reminded us Tuesday, the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning.

He had, too, a tougher message about the debased state of our politics.

"We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow sympathize with his most offensive words.

"We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the election regardless of his policies.

"We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change."

And the political right will have succeeded in hijacking a presidential election. Again.

P-I columnist Joel Connelly

can be reached at 206-448-8160

or joelconnelly@seattlepi.com.

Follow politics on the P-I's blog at



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White preachers, Reverend Wright and God-damm America ] Just a Typical Black Person ] Of National Lies and Racial America ] Unequal Perspectives on Racial Equality ] Lest We Forget: An open letter to my sisters who are brave. ] racial hypocrites ] Wright's remarks 'ugly truth' ] America can't disown the Rev. Jeremiah Wright ] Big Issue in America Is Class ] Race, Religion and the Politics of Repudiation ] Barack Obama’s Problem - And Ours ] Chicago’s Trinity UCC ] Has Race Finally Trumped Hope AND Change ] Not Just Empty Words, or Another "Eloquent Speech" ] The Empire Strikes Back! ] The White Man Who Inspire Wright's  Comments ] Are we really ready to talk race? ] [ WILL RACE BE USED TO HIJACK THE 2008 ELECTION? ] Wright's truths painful for some ]
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