Is Jeremiah Wright right about racism? There, I asked the question - a question that should be at the center of the "controversy" surrounding Barack Obama's former pastor, but which has been completely ignored. Somewhere deep down, I am guessing Wright feels some shred of vindication, because the entire "controversy" surrounding him now answers that question resoundingly. As I discuss in my newspaper column out today, Wright has become the latest target of the media lynch mob - and in becoming that target, he has proven his very assertions about the persistence of racism in our culture.
There are some things Wright has said that I strongly disagree with, and I certainly may disagree with more of his statements that come to light in the future. However, as the column shows, the specific statements at the center of the Wright "controversy" today are rooted in undeniable fact. Yes, there is a black community in America - and acknowledging that does not make one a "black separatist." Yes, terrorist attacks are often the product of what our own government calls "blowback" - even if that "blowback" is undeserved, criminal and immoral. And yes, bigotry is still a powerful force in American culture - and our society would do well to understand that bigotry makes African-Americans unhappy. As archconservative Mike Huckabee (R) said, "I grew up in a very segregated South and I think that you have to cut some slack...we've gotta cut some slack to people who grew up being called names."
But the intolerance the media lynch mob has shown toward Wright - and the tolerance the same media has shown toward the real extremists around John McCain and Hillary Clinton - is a telling double standard proving Wright's fundamental thesis correct. While Wright has dominated the news, anti-Catholic pastor John Hagee and anti-Semitic Reverend Billy Graham have received scant attention for their close relationships with McCain and Clinton, respectively. The Serious Media have followed modern day Bull Connors like Sean Hannity, Pat Buchanan and Charles Krauthammer into the ugliest gutter - the gutter of racial politics. And these three racist lynch mob leaders will undoubtedly retain their perches on cable networks and on the op-ed pages of Serious Newspapers. They will continue championing what one expert calls "colorblind racism" - the kind of racism that hides itself in platitudes against racism and extremism itself.
Clinton, of course, has fueled the fire. Just this week, she granted an interview to the fringe right-wing Pittsburgh Tribune Review - the tiny newspaper owned by the same Richard Mellon Scaife who financed Republicans' anti-Clinton infrastructure in the 1990s. Clinton used the interview to specifically stoke the Wright "controversy" ahead of Pennsylvania's primary. Her much-vaunted political "firewall" that she says will stop Obama has very clearly become a "race wall" (more on this in a new In These Times article set for release on Monday).
This was a very difficult column to write. It took a long time to craft, because racial and foreign policy taboos (especially those that question American exceptionalism) are such sensitive topics - and I've gotten some hate email already this morning. But I'm glad I wrote this. With so much of the well-heeled, white Establishment simultaneously preening around like they oppose racism while pushing this story in a fundamentally racist way, I felt it was important to make the basic point that started out this post. And that is, again: This whole "controversy" has confirmed Wright's fundamental assertion that our culture is still deeply afflicted by bigotry. If the media is a mirror reflecting what we as a society consider acceptable and unacceptable, then that mirror is right now telling us just how powerful racism still is in American life.
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