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Rev. Wright at the National Press Club

This is absolutely necessary viewing by those that wish to understand the recent controversies about black liberation theology in current American political discourse.  Reverend Wright should be commended for his courage and prophetic stance in a culture of amnesia which continues to avoid telling the truth about its own history.

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Part 6:


H/T: David


  1. The news media ignores his call of reconciliation and love, and of humility and peace. They instead focus on an imitation of JFK (out of context as well).

    And if you read the comments on the Fox website you see people basically repeating verbatim what Glen Beck, Sean Hannity and even some progressive talking heads are saying

    Of course nobody has once given a solid answer as to what exactly Rev. Wright did wrong. What did he say that was erroneous? They just ask if it will hurt Obama. And the right wing a-holes just say he’s scary and doesn’t represent Christ at all. I don’t know what Bible they’re reading, but I’m inspired by Wright and actually like Obama more knowing he’s been challenged by this prophetic voice for so long.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    As far as I’m concerned he’s just a truth-teller. America cannot stand such things. Bonhoeffer figured this out a long time ago in regard to America’s inability to tell the truth about racism.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  3. BLDavis wrote:

    Interesting. Wright is certainly a character, funny at times, if not a bit on the cocky side.

    Politically and theologically – as far as “prophetic critique” or Liberation theology goes – I think the whole Wright/media blow-up was was a non-issue from the beginning. His damn comments (pardon the pun) were clearly understood by anyone who took the time to contextualize them.

    I do, however, think that Wright was not prophetic enough, shall we say, in his response to the John 14/Muslim question that was thrown his way, especially in light of his call for historical readings of the Biblical text.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  4. Hill wrote:

    I am generally sympathetic to Wright and his commentary, but young, left-leaning intellectuals are giving him too much of a pass. What do you make of his absurd comment that the attacks on him are an attack on the black church generally? In addition to being patently self-aggrandizing, whose black church? Fortunately, many African American commentators in the media have rightfully pointed out what a ridiculous claim that is.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  5. Hill wrote:

    Also, is his continued attachment to the myth the the U.S. government invented AIDS to exterminate black people an example of his “truth-telling?”

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  6. Hill,

    What is important about Dr. Wright’s understanding of the attack here, and indeed the black community as well (merely from watching many a response of support for Wright), that such a reaction by the media and government is understood through a hermeneutic of suspicion by the community.

    In someways, it doesn’t matter if the government actually, actively spread aids – the government has hardly been a friend to the black community, either through inactivity or overt oppression – and so this latest, biased hoopla is yet again a reinforcement of historical abuse.

    See a video of Mos Def and Cornel West displaying the hermeneutic of suspicion here:

    As far as the actual claim of spreading aids? Well I sure hope the government did not actively spread aids, but it sure as hell did little or nothing to help those with aids, especially in the black community. Rather it is the black church that has stood to help those in its community, so in a way, attacking a pastor who is seen as a voice for the church that helps the community, becomes an attack on the community – especially if the communities of white and black are historically understood in terms of oppressor and oppressed.

    For example, watch the introduction to Wright’s speech at the NAACP meeting given yesterday. Right after the introduction, and before Wright speaks, the audience gives Wright a standing ovation for a reason. The audience sure understands the attack on Wright as an attack on the community, and possibly even the religion of the community, because it is an attack on the prophetic black experience – truth telling. “How dare they say that about this wonderful country!” To try and silence the leader’s voice attempts to silence the community.

    Importantly, I also do not see Wright as self-serving (although I am not saying that you said he is). I have seen a number of quick comments on News blogs calling Wright an egotistical, attention grabber. However, in his responses, I don’t see him acting as such. He waited quite awhile to talk (letting things settle down so he can have a chance to speak, I assume), and now as he is speaking, he is doing it in such a way that addresses the issues of race and religion, while explaining a community and context that so little of America seems to understand. The importance of seeing Wright as continually putting forth truth, especially when he has the platform to do so, proves his consistency and makes him even more of a person to listen to.

    On the grounds of suspicion, community response, and consistency, perhaps some of his seemingly absurd claims have a rational logic to him that makes some claims seem less absurd.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 3:02 pm | Permalink
  7. Hill wrote:

    I basically agree with what you are saying. I just think that in any other context, a person who was so rhetorically careless and exaggerated would rightly be criticized by a fair-minded observer. I really think there is a phenomenon in which young, well-off, white progressives really “eat up” the whole “edgy, angry black man” thing, which is perhaps an even more sinister and subversive kind of racism. I’m just not comfortable with the concept of a monolithic “black church.” It makes about as much sense as “the white church.”

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  8. Jason Oliver wrote:

    I share some concerns with Hill about the monolith of the black church. However, there is a use for the generality. Though the theology of the black church is as diverse as the supposed white church, history demands a generalization when it comes to African American Christians’ shared experience victims of systemic oppression within the U.S.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  9. Hill wrote:

    While that is true, it is certainly not the case that all black Christians belong to this supposed “black church.” Does that somehow diminish their solidarity with the plight of modern African Americans? This line of thinking comes dangerously close to suggesting as much. Unless we are talking about Ethiopian Orthodoxy (and I’d love to talk about that!), I just don’t think this kind of terminological looseness can be admitted as appropriate to “theological” discourse. There are likely as many “minorities” as there are caucasians with me at Mass on Sunday. Do I attend a white church? Is Catholicism “white?” At the very least we have to recall that these terms are profoundly American, and hence limited, if somewhat useful.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 4:31 pm | Permalink
  10. While I don’t like monolithic terms either, it can be unavoidable when it comes to criticism of structural evil (racism, sexism, etc.) and identifying the history that forms us, which was, and to some degree still is, black and white. Or on the other hand, when one does say “the black church” one can understand such a term to be filled with complexity.

    I’m wondering Hill, if you have anymore criteria for these young, well-off, white progressives who really eat up the whole edgy, angry, black man thing. It seems that even here, the strokes are a bit broad. It seems like I could fit that, but instead of trying to be a black, angry man, or act like I’m a black, angry man, or attempting to commodify this black, angry man, I’m trying to respond well and with support as I am. I certainly am not without criticism, otherwise it would just be another way of fetishizing race (as Carter puts it), but upon understanding that I profit from undue privilege because others suffer and such a thing has also made its way into the church, what am I supposed to do? I have a few ideas, but I am curious as to any more specifics you have on these young progressives who are masquerading as people they are not.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
  11. Hill wrote:

    I should have mentioned that the only reason I felt comfortable advancing that somewhat incendiary characterization is that I have felt the tendency myself (being white, relatively well off, and vaguely progressive at times). I think underlying my reservations about the conversation (and I mean our society wide conversation) is how it marginalizes potential “other ways” which may reside on the fringes. What hits home for me is how both sides in the debate typically have no concept of Christianity beyond American Protestantism, either white or black. Given that from my point of view, this is but a small (and often lamentable) part of the story of Christianity, I find it very difficult to engage, because it quickly devolves into discussions that are borderline nonsensical. I can’t say that I have any solution to this, but I have found, by the grace of God, a much diverse ecclesial environment which seems to be a fair bit farther along towards “neither greek nor jew” than the stereotypical “black” or “white” churches. Of course, this problem of ours as a culture is likely no more closer to be solved as a result of that. I just feel like these sorts of discussions, while they frequently employ the concepts and language of theology, very often have some other motivating force under the surface. It makes more sense to me to seek that universal core of the faith which succeeded in uniting essentially the entire known world rather than asserting various insular racial modes of theology over against one another. I don’t think that excludes the possibility of reparation and redress of past structural wrongs. If anything, it may be the only thing which can make them possible.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 5:18 pm | Permalink
  12. Layne wrote:

    Wait the govt. did nothing to help stop aids… You must be kidding. Tax dollars have poured out of the US treasury to the tune of billions to fund research into the cause (when it was unknown) treatment, prevention and cure of AIDS. Currently the US govt is spending billions more to treat AIDS infected and affected persons in Africa. This charge by Rev. Wright nothing more than slander. It is no excuse to say that his history (and other African Americans’ history) with the government is bad. He has accused the government of committing an atrocity, with no evidence. This is quackery. How is it that to describe Wright’s words as the lie they are amounts to an attack on the tradition of truth telling?

    It matters a great deal if this claim is true. If the claim is true, then some persons need to face justice. If the claim is not true then he has lied in the pulpit in the name of Christ, and he is teaching his congregation to hate on the basis of that lie. Telling the lie also weakens the voice of the prophet who tells the truth. The next person who attempts to speak on race like this will face “oh he’s just like that Wright character.” Truth matters.

    If you want to critique the US and the US govt about race, it is fair game. However, lets be fair and put every other country in the world to the same test. I’ll bet you’ll find that the US has made more progress on race and race related issues than many. Does this excuse our current situation? Of course not. But we have, in fact, come a long way on race. Obama’s success in the primaries is a testament to that fact. (Would it have been possible 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago?)

    Grace and Peace

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  13. The budget for preventing aids right now is in no way connected to the response to aids when it first showed up. As far as I understand it, he wasn’t talking about the current aids problem now. So, to be fair, I’ll include the clause that I though was obvious: back when aids showed up, the government seemed to have done nothing.

    As for the billions of dollars in the US government’s budget today, the foreign aid you allude to is still less than 1% of the budget (while the military budget is over half of the entire budget) – not like what most people guess it to be when asked (which by the way, people guess it to be around 20%).

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  14. Layne wrote:

    What was said, and I apologize if I misunderstood, was that the government has did “little or nothing” about aids especially in the black community. This is simply not true. Was the government’s response horribly slow? YES! Did way too many people suffer and die before the govt acted? Yes, but to say that the govt. has done little or nothing is not fair at all. We gave spent billions on this disease.

    Now about the defense budget: these two are not related items, but the statistics you cite are not correct. The president requested a defense budget of 481.4 billion for dept of defense and 141.7 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afg. out of a 2.9 trillion dollar budget request. That is not 50%. I am referencing an article in the Washington Post
    If you can cite your 50% stat, I’d be glad to stand corrected.

    If you want to argue that the govt spends too much on defense and not enough on aids, fine. But you cannot say that the govt has done little or nothing. You may say that the govt has not done enough, I’m not sure that is a fair charge.

    The last year I can find numbers for is 2005 and in it we spent 19.7 billion on aids. Look at it another way. From 1981-2005 the govt has spent $186,901,000,000 on AIDS. There are approximately 1.1 million people with aids in the United States, and 500,000 have died from this plague. This kind of spending per capita is not “little or nothing.”

    Grace and Peace

    Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  15. Marvin wrote:

    I too think it makes a world of difference whether or not AIDS was cooked up in a CDC lab and was let loose in order to kill African Americans or whether it arose as all other communicable diseases have arisen. Indeed, if the former is true a whole lot of people probably ought to be locked up for good.

    But the former is not true. Not true at all. And when Rev. Wright, in response to a pointed question on the subject, speculates that the U.S. government is capable of anything, he’s given credence to lies.

    It doesn’t do the cause of anti-racism any good when any of its leaders veers off into tin foil hat territory on the national stage.

    I say this as someone who’s spent the last ten years involved in one degree or another in fighting AIDS at the grass roots level.

    If Rev. Wright wants to strike a blow against AIDS in the African-American community then he needs to call out his fellow pastors for perpetuating a culture of silence and virulent homophobia in the African-American community which has caused the disease to spread like wildfire among heterosexual African-American women. Black men living on the down-low have done far more to spread the disease than scientists in white labs coats.

    Now for a long time blacks have had to choose between a message of self-empowerment (Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X, Bill Cosby) and aggressive engagement with white society (DuBois, MLK). And I realize that I’m using these categories and siding with the former as the preferred route when it comes to AIDS. In fact we don’t need to choose but to do both. The African-American community certainly needs to empower itself, and the nation certainly needs to vigorously work to end discrimination wherever it exists.

    But again, this isn’t what Wright was talking about at the National Press Club. He’s in Loony Tunes territory. He may as well have wondered aloud if all the Jews stayed home from work at the World Trade Center on 9/11, or if his parishioner’s chief political rival really did have something to do with the death of Vince Foster.

    Wright’s become a Troofer. It’s sad. And saying so doesn’t make one an apologist for racism or American exceptionalism.

    Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  16. Like I said, and I think you have acknowledged Layne, when aids appeared, little was done. And what is being done now is an improvement in some ways. In fact, I understand that Bush actually can have somewhat of a positive legacy concerning Africa because of his push on aids.

    However, to disconnect America’s domestic response from America’s foreign actions is to disconnect colonial action abroad and remaining systemic injustice at home, within the larger historical context. Both domestic and foreign find their roots in a neo-colonialism – a coercive state and co-opting market. Both are therefore also tied into the same budget as well. An increase in spending for weapons means a decrease in spending in social programs – but the people who suffer the most are those live without privilege. Quite simply, what we spend our money on sheds light on what we care about.

    As for the Budget, the following links provide a more indepth look:

    I believe I have heard similar things from documentaries like Why We Fight and the Corporation, but I haven’t been able to find them citing it. If I do come across them later, I’ll let you know, but the links above should suffice for now.

    Lastly, while I do acknowledge there is a difference between someone shooting someone versus ignoring someone starving to death, in the end, the community feels the death as if it had been shot, just by a different kind of bullet. Between the ghettoization and ignoring aids/demonizing those who had it, from the perspective of those who’s humanity has been questioned, in someways there is very little difference. In the end, there were deaths because of complex, but still racist and oppressive economic structures. I may hope that the government did not attempt to inject aids into the black community, or think it a bit absurd because I (hopefully) never would do such a thing if I were in such a position, but in the end, for those who have been beat down by an equally sinister system through negligence and greed, the result are dead black bodies as a result of a white rich system. It is still in some ways plantation politics.

    Even if we disagree that the government would do such a thing (although it pretty much did such a thing to Native American tribes with tuberculosis and blankets), the dead black bodies still lay as a condemnation of the system when it was in place (and still exists today) and that is what is important to realize. Such a remark by Wright comes from a context and in such a context does not seem so absurd – especially when understood in a historical context.

    Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 2:47 pm | Permalink
  17. Layne wrote:

    Now the govt. created tuberculosis to get rid of Native Americans? What is the evidence?

    I’ve read the stats you have shown, and they do not make much sense. The single biggest govt. expenditure is Social Security, accounting for 21% of all expenditures, and it is not on the list provided by the quakers.

    PS I hope you have not heard me say that the govt is above doing something that horrid, I just ask simply that if one is to make such a serious accusation that they have proper evidence.

    Grace and Peace

    Monday, May 5, 2008 at 9:02 am | Permalink
  18. I didn’t say the government created tuberculosis. However, I was mentioning early bioterrorism by White Americans on Native Americans – purposely giving blankets laden with diseases so as to infect the populace. Although I misspoke, it was smallpox, not tuberculosis.

    The Friends site explains why Social Security isn’t in the chart. So does the War resisters page. Basically, Social Security is funded a different way than out tax dollars on April 15.

    It may encourage you to know that James Cone just said in an interview in the New York Times on Sunday that he doesn’t believe the US government started AIDs, but with the abuse of using black men as a study group on the effects of syphilis (while lying about treating them) and eugenics , “its easy to get angry.”

    I’ve been trying maintain, to some degree, the context from which Wright’s comments may come from. He didn’t just blurt out the phrase in an isolated fashion. True, he didn’t footnote what he said, but a footnote is only one of many ways to understand his speeches. And I think it is important to note, that when talking about the belief that America made AIDS, that this is ultimately about belief. While you want facts to back it up, and I would like some as well, the important distinction right now is that Wright and others believe such action by the government was taken. In someways its about belief for both sides, those who believe it to be true and others who don’t, because there is no documented evidence on the particular point of AIDs. So really, the discussion becomes something about plausibility and coverups – does the United States government have a certain negative track record? And for the black community, it does.

    With this in mind, Wright isn’t crazy, but is he wrong? I’d like to think so, however, I must also admit that even if I disbelieve him, its from a position where I have inherited privilege and must be just as equally considered with suspicion. None of this can strictly be just about the facts, we’re still a part of this culture.

    Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

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