Racism 101: The Politics of Racism

by Travis Prinzi on March 14, 2008

This is a very controversial piece, and I freely admit I may have to rethink some of this as discussion moves forward. Additional Point: One of the things I’m trying to do with this series is to demonstrate that one can agree with “liberals” or “progressives” (for lack of better words) on the causes and definition of racism without it becoming part of the Republican vs. Democrat power-play divide (“racism” vs. “race card”) on this issue (and also, one can agree on the causes and definition, while proposing a different solution to the problem).

Jon did a Google Reader share yesterday (Google Reader rocks, by the way) of the new video circulating of Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright (whom I’ve defended here previously), and many of his inflammatory statements about race (and a few on terrorism) in America. No doubt this is going to cause a firestorm. The Clintons will have to tread carefully here, as they’ve recently run into difficulty over the Ferraro gaffe. They’ll probably use it as part of their new “Obama is unelectable so you should nominate Hillary even though she lost” plan. Conservative pundits – though likely not McCain himself, who won’t want to revisit his “gooks” statement of 2000 – will be all over it in the general election.

Just for the record, watching rich white conservative men react with righteous indignation at Wright’s claim that rich white men run the country is, well, kind of appalling. ‘Cause whatever else you think of Wright, he’s, you know, right on that one.

The politics of all this makes it impossible, once again, to actually talk about racism. I’ll note that it is amusing (and by amusing, I mean “really sad”) the way this plays out. It goes sort of like this:

  • White conservative person makes a statement about the effect race has on a vote.
  • Liberal person claims “Racism.”
  • White conservative accuses liberal of “playing the race card.”

And we never actually talk any deeper about whether or not racism was involved (or what racism even is). Ferraro’s comments are a good example (I know she’s not a conservative, but it illustrates the point). Ferraro’s statement that Barack is winning because of his race is a matter of sociological opinion/discussion, of course. I’d disagree with her (I think if Barack were running the same campaign as a white man, he’d have had this nomination wrapped up a month ago), but that’s a legitimate conversation of . But the question that many are unwilling to address is why Ferraro made the comment and what its effects are, and the answer to that seems to me to be – it’s an attempt to inject a racial element into the contest prior to PA’s primary, in order to favor Clinton.  So whether or not her statement was “racist” or “bigoted,” its effects are to use race in order to achieve a certain end (power for Clinton).

Here’s what I like about the fact that Jeremiah Wright is getting attention in this election, despite the fact that he’s over-the-top and there’s much he says with which I disagree: with a candidate like Obama in play, we might actually end up having a discussion about racism. It won’t happen in the media, but it just might happen across America anyway.

What I’m trying to do here is not to have the typical middle-class-white-man disingenuous “righteous anger” at someone like Wright, and to give his thoughts, as a representation of the black community, a fair and challenging hearing (this is America, right?). We tend automatically to deflect the arguments of people like Wright and never to really think about them. So, implications for political campaigns aside, here are the discussions about Jeremiah Wright’s views that I want to have (these are real questions, not simply rhetorical). I’ll show my hand right off the bat by putting my responses in brackets.

  • Is Jeremiah Wright incorrect to say that since its founding, this is a nation that has favored whites at the expense of blacks? [No, not at all…and this is the fundamental conversation that needs to be had when it comes to defining and understanding racism in America.]
  • Is Jeremiah Wright incorrect to say that America is an arrogant nation? [In some ways, we are humanitarian and do a lot of great things around the world, no question about it; but yes, we’re an arrogant nation. That’s standard as far as empires go.]
  • Not taking Jeremiah Wright’s “God damn America” statements entirely out of context (“damn” was set up in contrast to “bless,” he’s talking about judgment/cursing), are his statements that America is deserving of judgment for its sins incorrect? [No, of course not. The point of his statement here is a good one: American leaders assume and invoke the blessing of God while doing things that He abhors. It’s the sin of presumption Wright’s getting at here. I don’t think Wright or anyone else wants American destroyed in a cataclysmic judgment from God.]

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 lonelypilgrim March 14, 2008 at 5:10 pm

This is obviously a topic that usually generates more heat than light. Here are some thoughts I have as we go forth in this discussion.

1. None of us will actually look at this issue objectively. Of course that is true of every issue. We all come to every issue with our own set of biases, prejudices, presuppositions and so forth. So let’s dispense with the notion that we can somehow be objective.

2. Related to point #1 I will never see this issue the same way someone who is black and grew up in the inner city of Detroit (or whatever big city you wish to put in here) does. Conversely, that person will never see it in the same way that someone who is white and grew up in rural Georgia sees it either. And I think it is also fair to say that whites who grew up in an area where there were not many blacks (such as Vermont or Maine for example) don’t have the same perspective as a white person from Alabama or Mississippi.

3. If one accepts that my first two points are correct, then he should be respectful of those who come at this issue from another perspective.

So, having said those three things I want to pose some questions to Mr. Wright, or any other black person who shares his perspective (or white person for that matter).

1. If for the next 365 days I gave you a dollar for every black person that was killed by a white and you gave me a dollar for every black person that was killed by another black person which of us do you think would have more money at the end of that year?

2. Since I brought up money in question #1, let’s make a wager. This wager is based on the assumption that Barack Obama wins the Democratic nomination, which I think he will. I’ll bet you $1,000.00 that Obama will receive a higher percentage of the white vote than McCain will receive of that black vote. We’ll donate the money to the charity of the winner’s choice. Anybody willing to bet against me on that?

3. If John McCain’s pastor gave a humanitarian award to David Duke would it be enough for John McCain to say that he doesn’t agree with his pastor on that matter?

4. You have accused the United States of supporting state terrorism against the Palestinians. I am assuming that you are referring to the United States’ long support of Israel. You said this in September of 2001. Less than a year before you said this, President Clinton, in a meeting with Israeli PM Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, arranged an agreement that would have created a Palestinian state. Was it Barak or Arafat who refused to sign the agreement? Oh, and in a similar question to question #1, I’ll give you a dollar for every Palestinian killed by an Israeli and you give me a dollar for every Palestinian killed by another Palestinian, no change that, just give me a dollar for every Palestinian killed by Hamas. Let’s just do it for a year again and see who has more money.

5. Speaking of Israel, who said “Israel makes the Nazi state look very moderate in terms of its views.”? Here’s a hint, his 1st name is the name of the guy in the Bible who killed Goliath, his last name is the name of a Methodist school in North Carolina well known for its mens basketball program and I mentioned him in question #3.

6. You speak with high praise for Nelson Mandela. Do this for me. Go to a search engine like google or yahoo and do a search on his name along with the word “necklacing.” What did you find out?

7. The United States is responsible for killing more people than any other country in the world, according to you anyway. You also say that the United States is run by “rich, white guys.” So, are there more black/African people trying to get into or out of this country which is responsible for more deaths than any other and run by “rich, white guys.”?

Reply

2 Travis Prinzi March 14, 2008 at 11:00 pm

lonelypilgrim, thanks for offering your thoughts. I’m really interested in starting helpful conversation about all this, so thanks for being so thorough in your points. Some responses:

To your first three points, I agree, and well-said. Now, to the others:

1. But why is this? Surely you’re not saying that blacks are by nature more violent and prone to kill than whites. I think the answer to this lies in the culture that comes out of poverty and oppression. I’m not excusing crime, but it’s important to note that sin doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It occurs in a context, and in this instance, I think white privilege and oppression of blacks has created that context.

2. What you’re saying is true, but again, the reason why is important.

3. Barack has repudiated Farrakahn and has been clear that there are things Wright says with which he disagrees.

4 – 5. This is a conversation for another place and time than this thread. I want to focus our attention here on white and black in America. (Also, where did I write about the US supporting state terrorism?)

6. Where did I talk about Nelson Mandela?

7. I’m not saying the US is the most miserable place in the world to live. It’s the place of best opportunity for everyone. But is it wrong to continue to try to make it better? (And where do I say that the US is responsible for killing more people than any other nation?)

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3 lonelypilgrim March 15, 2008 at 12:40 am

If you would have read my post more carefully you would have seen that I primarily addressed those questions to Mr. Wright, then to any black person who agrees with him then to any white person who agrees with him. And I don’t think you fit into any of the 3 categories……lol.

Mr. Wright has called Israel a terrorist state. He has said the USA is responsible for killing more people than any other nation. And he has praised Nelson Mandela. I don’t think you said any of that.

Now to comment on some of your points.

My reason for the questions I would ask to Mr. Wright in #1 and 2 is based on his suggestions that the USA is a racist country. My point is that if his premise is correct then whites should not only be killing more blacks than blacks themselves do, it should be disproportionately so. But, that isn’t the case, it’s not even close. No, I don’t think it is because blacks are by nature more prone to crime than whites are. Poverty may have something to do with it, but I think the fact that illegitimacy is far higher in the black community than in the white has far more to do with it. And, I think that explains both the high crime and poverty rates in the black community. Note that crime rates fell during the great depression.

I asked question #3 because I wonder if the black community would accept McCain saying that he disagreed with David Duke and disagreed with his pastor giving Duke some kind of award, if that hypothetical scenario took place. Or, would McCain actually have to leave that church. Let me speak for myself here, I would not continue to be a member of a church that gave either Farrakhan or Duke any kind of award.

I brought up the Israeli/Palestinian question only because of Wright’s comment on it.

Wright is an admirer of Mandela. To be honest, I think one of the great disservices ever done by the mass media in the United States is that this man (Mandela I mean) is almost idolized. If you polled the American people as to the political beliefs of Mandela, I would wager that it would be a very small number that said Marxist or Communist. Nor do most of them have any idea what necklacing is.

On the final point. I didn’t vote for Mike Huckabee, but I think he had a good point on the subject of illegal immigration. To paraphrase him, we ought to get on our knees each night and thank God that we live in a nation that people are trying to break into instead of one that people are trying to get out of.

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4 Travis Prinzi March 15, 2008 at 12:45 am

If you would have read my post more carefully you would have seen that I primarily addressed those questions to Mr. Wright, then to any black person who agrees with him then to any white person who agrees with him. And I don’t think you fit into any of the 3 categories……lol.

Ah, NOW it all makes a lot more sense! 😉

I’ll have to get to your points another time. It’s late and I need to sleep.

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5 lonelypilgrim March 15, 2008 at 12:59 am

Sleep? What’s that?

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8 steven anderson March 28, 2008 at 3:48 am

The good reverend Wright is an American hating avowed marxist type. Anyone who reads his sermons or attends his church hears sermons like the ones looped on the tube 30 times a year. He is among the worst. He mixes overt political philosophy with religion, stirs it up, and offers everyone a sip.

Buy some videos yourself from his church web site if they are still selling them. Amuse yourself listening to his diatribe of hate. He has no use for white people, period. Except if you hate the USA or are an enemy of the country.

No one can have a legitimate discussion of race in his context, that is like asking Osama bin Laden to discuss his views on Christianity.

The black value system Wright preaches is the worst racist concoction ever excused. Apologists are all over themselves thinking of how it can be moderated to the average Joe on the street. The media is busy polishing this turd as best they can.

The average folk in America do not buy the message of the media that all is well, please vote for Obama. Many Americans will not forget what Obama stands for now in the light of his mentor. It matters not what political persuasion you are.

Speaking of that, would anyone out there vote for a person, White, Asian, or Hispanic, running for any public office if they said a white supremacist, (pick any) was their mentor?

Not hardly.

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10 Travis Prinzi March 28, 2008 at 7:36 am

steven, just for clarification…have you read hundreds of his sermons or attended his church regularly? Have you bought a ton of his sermons and heard all this “hate” yourself?

This is the problem with so much political commentary: no nuance, no deep thought…just a bunch of shallow categories in which to force people. What, exactly, does “Obama stand for now in light of his mentor,” when he’s consistently denounced Wright’s extreme statements? And what media are you listening to? The media I’ve been listening to hasn’t been saying “all is well, vote for Obama.” It’s been running endless loops of Wright’s most extreme statements, playing guilt-by-assocation, and asking Obama to please not talk about race, it’s not really important. I heard it again just last night on ABC news.

I’ve been trying to listen to people who have known the man for 20, 30 years. And then I’ve been listening to the commentary of Hannity et al, and the conclusion seems pretty simple to me: the people who have known him and heard him say he’s not a hateful person, those comments don’t represent the norm; they put his preaching in its proper context (prophetic-style preaching of African American churches) so they can understand it better. Hannity et al simply throw around phrases like “America-hater.”

Wright is not a “black supremacist,” even if he does hold bigotry towards whites.

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