Barack Obama’s speech on race and Jeremiah Wright yesterday is part of an issue that, should Obama do as expected and win the Democrat nomination, will certainly come up over and over again in the fall, like the YouTube videos he referred to yesterday. Jeremiah Wright and his Liberation Theology is something that no American poltician–except from from a safe inner-city district–really wants to deal with, and when you mix it with race, it’s just too much.
But the sad truth is that, had Barack Obama played his cards differently in life, he probably could have avoided it altogether.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the end of importation of slaves into the United States. The Founding Fathers brought themselves to do that much in the original Constitution of 1789, while leaving the rest for the horrible later. In most parts of the Western Hemisphere, slavery was so gruelling and inhuman that slaves were unable to reproduce themselves even at a survival level, forcing a continuous importation of Africans to keep the “negro yards” full of negroes. The Fathers probably figured that slavery would die out in the U.S. without replenishment from Africa.
The Founding Fathers didn’t figure on two things, though. The first was the mechanisation of cotton production through the cotton gin, which made this fibre economically attractive to produce. The second was the rather strange nature of American slavery. Driven by people who brought with them a weak work ethic at best, slavery in the South, dehumanising and demoralising as it was and needful of abolition, was light enough to permit the proliferation of black people without more coming from Africa. The long-term result of all of this was the development of African-American culture, which is unique even within the diversity of cultures of those people who are descendants of sub-Saharan Africans.
With Obama, though, his father was a Kenyan immigrant, whose ancestors never knew slavery. Obama himself is only half-black; in cultures with a more realistic view of race than ours, he would be viewed as “creole.” (Some of my ancestors were referred to with the same term, but South Louisiana had a still broader view of the use of the term.) He wasn’t raised in an African-American culture; indeed, his upbringing was partly outside of the U.S., which is why many Americans have a hard time understanding him.
It was only when he got to Columbia, and was exposed to the racial identity politics and sociology that obsesses this country, that he felt he was forced to find his “black identity,” which in turn led him to become a community activist in Chicago and drew him to Jeremiah Wright and his church. And, of course, one must never underestimate the influence of his wife Michelle, who is a true product of the African-American community here.
But that was his choice, all of it. He could have ignored it; that process would have been easier if he had a conservative ideology than a liberal one. This year’s election cycle has shown that the Republicans are driven by ideology and the Democrats by racial and gender identity, with economics the undertow of both. But he didn’t, and now the “chickens have come home to roost,” as we would say here in the hills.
I have deep misgivings about Barack Obama as a President. But it’s unfair to characterise him as a “black” candidate in the context of the experience of African descended people in this country. The community had their misgivings too, which is one reason why Obama’s candidacy took some time to catch fire with American blacks. On the other hand, he’s culpable for the label of the “black candidate” to the extent that he’s cultivated the African-American community. Such cultivation is most likely the act of a politician, as Dick Morris points out, but politicians have to carry the burden of their opportunism as well as their ideology, as Mitt Romney found out the hard way.
So we plough on. It’s time that we as Americans come to the understanding that, no matter what past discrimination has taken place, our God has put us in one country for a reason, and the only way we’re going to make it is if each and every one of us seeks to find for ourselves and draw out in others the potential that our Creator has placed in each and every one of us and to look to him for the supernatural endowment that only comes from above. Jeremiah Wright’s Liberation Theology won’t do that. Does Barack Obama know this? His speech indicated he does, but now he must demonstrate that it’s more than a speech.