I’ve just had the chance to listen to Obama’s race speech. It is, as always, eloquently written and delivered and I agree with what he says about America, race, unity, and our work to do. Who could not?
But I believe he is trying too hard to dodge making a decision about Jeremiah Wright and his divisive and racist speech. After having thrown Wright to the wolves in prior videos, he now backs up. He tries to explain Wright. He explains him more as a product of racism than a racist himself. He says he cannot leave Wright and his flock behind or we will not come together to solve our problems.
No. A church is a choice. I left a church because it was bigoted toward gays. I left one congregation and the entire Presbyterian Church with it. Oh, one could try to explain their bigotry, to give it context and history, to caution that they should not be tossed aside because of this belief. But that, in my mind, would be every bit as bad as staying in a church or a country club that refused to allow black people in. That would be every bit as bad as refusing to condemn the hate speech of a Pat Robertson or a Jerry Falwell. It would be as bad as trying to explain away the racism of George Wallace or Lester Maddox with context and history. I did not want to endorse or support this church myself and I certainly did not want to raise my children in their atmosphere of discrimination. A church is a choice and I chose to leave.
Obama chooses not to leave. He chooses to try to explain Wright away. He wants to make it into a lesson in racial history. He wants to stay with Wright and company while only disagreeing with what he says. He wants to have it both ways, every way.
This is not the decisive decision of a leader, I think.
I also believe that Obama missed the opportunity to recast the campaign, the nation, and even himself. As he so beautifully puts it, he has bits of every bit of America in him. He is not black. He is not white. He can be the melting pot we’ve dreamed of in this country — at least my generation did once — and have never and probably will never achieve. Indeed, we no longer want cultures to melt away. And that is good. But I’ve heard Vin Diesel and Soledad O’Brien — hey, I’ll take cultural spokesmen where I can find them — refusing to let people put them into racial pens and to insist that they are simply American.
Barack Obama is simply American. Yes, he’s right that we cannot work together to solve racial problems and all our other problems by glossing over race, acting as if the history and wounds are not there. We agree. But we also cannot move past mistrust by justifying words and actions that divide and demand condemnation and separation.
I liked my minister. But I told him that he was supporting an atmosphere of bigotry. I told his board that was why we were leaving their church. I refused to try to get along with that. It was a choice, a sad but clear and necessary decision. If we are going to change, we sometimes must break from the past, not explain it.