Bill Moyers is broadcasting a siddown with Barack Obama's "controversial" pastor Jeremiah Wright this Friday evening, April 25th. By Saturday expect every utterance Pastor Wright makes to be as picked over as an episode of Lost at the San Diego Comicon.
Now, I'm not going to even try to defend everything that Pastor Wright has to say. At least not the four of five loopy sound bytes -- out of how many thousands of sermons he's given -- that have made him quite the YouTube sensation. But there is a particular aspect of the Wright mischaracterization I take exception with: the idea that his pro-black teachings make him some kind of radical separatist. Interviewing Pastor Wright in March of last year, for example, Fox's Sean Hannity had this to say about statements appearing on the website for Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ:
"It says, "Commitment to God." By the way, I'm with you, and I hope you'll pray for me, Reverend. Commitment to the black community, commitment to the black family, adherence to the black work ethic. It goes on, pledge, you know, acquired skills available to the black community, strengthening and supporting black institutions, pledging allegiance to all black leadership who have embraced the black value system, personal commitment to the embracement of the black value system. Now, Reverend, if every time we said black, if there was a church and those words were white, wouldn't we call that church racist?"
In answer to the question: yeah, probably. But that's 'cause there's a difference between being pro-black and pro-white and the difference is a bad one.
Adherence to pro-black values isn't code for "kill whitey." It's merely how blacks have managed to stay alive and viable in America all these many years since we were first graciously given a ride across the middle passage to get dropped off in Virginia.
"A commitment to the black community" is what got us collectively through slavery, through an abandoned reconstruction and the ensuing era of Jim Crow. As I'm sure some will recall, because of a pesky little thing called segregation there was nothing for the black community to rely on but the black community.
Ironically, the community values and focus on the family Wright preaches of are exactly the kind of "don't bother us, do it yourself"-isms conservatives are always hectoring people of color to observe. How convenient for the pundits they can both wish us off the perceived teat, then get riled by those who encourage us to be self-reliant.
To the contrary of pro-blackness, it's pro-whiteness which has unfortunately produced some awful to horrible results: white sheets and nooses and burning cross and Citizens Councils and red lining and guys nicknamed Brownie doing a "heck of a job."
That's not say there's anything wrong with being comfortable in white skin. If that's what God gave you, sure, be happy with it. However, the whole concept of having to be pro-white is redundant. It's not as if, in the normal course of events, white folks as a race really need that much encouragement. Do teachers really have to explain to white kids that in a more fair America they could perhaps grow up to be president?
So, yeah; based on its suspect history, if one were to preach the doctrine of pro-whiteness there could be due cause for concern.
Pro-blackness, on the other hand -- analogous to the Protestant work ethic -- is one of the most positive American values we have.