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Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

Posted: 03/14/08 10:39 PM ET

I would like all the Huffington Post's black readers (please tell me you're out there, right?) to skip this post — this will seem like boring inside baseball to you. I would also like all open-minded non-blacks to not bother with this rant — as I understand that you feel our pain. This post only pertains to those still grappling with their overnight introduction to Black America brought into stark focus by the very presidential lens of Barack Obama. Now, for those still reading, can I ask you: Is it so hard to understand the unvarnished elements of the black community? I mean, do I have to rent each and every one of you a Tyler Perry film? Is it so hard to empathize with a people who haven't learned to cover all of their warts as they enter mainstream national politics? We don't want a free ride, but man, stop with the fear mongering.

Find me a people that have been systematically disenfranchised, underrepresented, shut out, since time memorial? And then find me evidence of total civility and political correctness in that community? It doesn't exist. So, if the rules are that in order for us to play in your game — the ascent to POTUS — we have to cleanse ourselves of all evidence of our fight to even get to this point, then we will lose. We're not ready for prime time if that means we have no controversial Jeremiah Wright's still visible to mainstream America. Obama's pariah pastor is emblematic of the vitriol that is still part of the black dialogue in some ways. But most importantly, it is not what Obama has been preaching from his time as a community leader and throughout his entire political career. So why force him to answer for it?

Blacks have not been a part of the national political discussion until very recent memory, and only a handful of blacks have ever held a state office in our history. So where has this left our nascent national political craft? Well, for starters, we don't have the 200 plus years of learning the delicate waltz known as pandering or kowtowing. We haven't perfected the skill of dancing around our relationship to questionable supporters (find me a president that didn't have these albatrosses), strange bedfellows and fair weather friends. We have the unique American experience — along with our Hispanic, Asian and other rising political power-holder brethren — of having to internalize our strange native politics. Because to show you our true feelings — like in the case of Jeremiah Wright — would be to scare the living crap out of you. We haven't had a national dress rehearsal in which to work these things out. And frankly, we didn't really think this was going to be our year.

Is it so hard to understand that this outsider role leaves us with a lot less refinement? It leaves us with outspoken and controversial folks like the Reverend Wright making the nightly news and filling the blogosphere. In the black community, Wright's words are just part of the vast script of opinions. Part of the deep and sometimes paradoxical story of a people still struggling to be heard. People like him don't speak for all blacks; again, we are not in lock step, no matter how much we all might like rap music. But he does speak for some, whose frustrations with America's abysmal record of keeping her promises has resulted in a lifetime of disappointment. Now, we know that you can feel us on this point, because she's not always been good to you too, our fairer brothers and sisters. But you have your own ways of dealing with your frustrations, and they're much more acceptable on the mainstream stage. Maybe Wright is the the yin to your evangelical Christian yang — preaching fire and brimstone about gays, school choice and illegal immigration.

But I understand that it seems foreign, offensive and scary. Seeing this black man in a weird 'African' robe (yikes, is he Muslim too?). We think the same about your wild-eyed southern preachers and Bob Jones University rallies. Hell, we've had to deal with a lot more of your weirdos than you have ours. And yours actually get elected, for crying out loud. Listen, I don't expect you to understand the internal strife of the black soul--it's gonna take a while and a bit more investment than watching Crash. It's a complicated and intricate latticework and it won't be deciphered by the mainstream overnight. But if you could accept us as we are, a still-struggling multi-faceted people with a lot of irons in the fire, then maybe you'd be more tolerant of our outbursts. Whether you agree with them or not.

Mr. Obama is doing a great job threading a very small needle between race, class and geography. Personally, at first, I didn't think he'd be able to do it. It's something no leader of color has been able to accomplish — yet. But if you expect him to be colorless to the point of disavowing the very real emotions and angst that still persist within the community that gave him the inspiration to even become a candidate, then I'd expect your vehement denouncement of the candidate and his pastor. For better or for worse, Jeremiah Wright is part of the diverse black community, just as Pat Robertson may be part of yours. Decide whether you can live with that — and whether you trust Obama to be a president for all of America — and let's move on. Don't make us dance for it.

 

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