Wednesday, April 30, 2008

running headlong into the abyss

so this is going to be a post about Obama and Reverend Wright. how could it not? but i'd like to start out with a quote i was reading today on the train: it's from Jean-Paul Sartre's preface to Fanon's "The Wretched of the Earth." Sartre is talking to the white european audience, explaining the value of listening to what i'm sure today's media would call Fanon's hate speech. He writes:

"Our victims know us by their scars and by their chains, and it is this that makes their evidence irrefutable. It is enough that they show us what we have made of them for us to realize what we have made of ourselves...But, you will say, we live in the mother country, and we disapprove of her excesses...You, who are so liberal and so humane, who have such an exaggerated adoration of culture that it verges on affectation, you pretend to forget that you own colonies and that in them men are massacred in your name. ...Have the courage to read this book, for in the first place it will make you ashamed, and shame, as Marx said, is a revolutionary sentiment."
It is shame, also, that we as a culture and that currently white americans in relation to this reverend wright thing, run from at all costs. we would much rather feel hate than shame, because to feel hate is to find somewhere else to put the blame, but to feel shame is to know you must change. More than anything else, i think this is what is coming out as Jeremiah Wright returns to the media spotlight.

I watched Wright's interview on Bill Moyer's Journal, and I have to say I thought it was actually pretty great. but apparently i'm the only one. the word "narcissism" seems to be ringing from the hilltops, which i think is surprisingly narrow-minded and infantile, even for the new york times. its true that Wright's media fling will probably not do great things for Obama's campaign, but i very much doubt he's throwing Obama to the dogs just to get his 15 minutes of fame. He's going on national television because his belief system, his way of life, and pretty much everything he's ever known is being attacked from all sides, and this is quite possibly the only opportunity he will have to defend it. Like it or not, this campaign is forcing the nation into at least a shallow discussion on race, and that might be the best we're going to get for a while. I don't blame him for trying to add to it.

So here's the deal: Wright is being called a bigot, a hate-monger, and just plain crazy from all sides. Obama is running to get away from him, and is still getting criticism for not running fast enough. The NY times is pointing to Wright's "embracing Louis Farrakhan's anti-semitism" (aka Wright's refusal to right Farrakhan off as nothing but an anti-semite), his "crazy" yet somehow very prevalent notion that the government is CAPABLE based on past and current actions of using AIDS to kill off black people, and his apparently hateful and shocking statement that America's hands are not clean of terror as proof that Wright is everything that is Wrong with black america.


I could go point by point, starting with the fact that what Wright actually said was that he may not agree with Farrakhan, but that "when he talks, black people listen" (true), but i'm slowly learning that there's not much point in laying out logical arguments about shit like this, because bottom line, it comes back to what Sartre was saying and why i put that quote at the beginning of this post: it may be cowardly, but its easier to "pretend to forget" than it is to look at yourself through the eyes of your victims. I listened to the longer clips of Wright's sermon about 9-11 and america's chickens coming home to roost, and his "god damn america" sermon, and they were brilliant and beautiful. He makes points about how god blesses people but does not bless the governments who fail them, and about how, in his words, "violence begets violence." I read the transcript of his national press club interview and found it to be quite the opposite of "unhinged" and offensive:" he talked about the need for the United States to apologize for the atrocities we've committed in the past. He talked about reconciliation as if he'd been coached by Desmond Tutu himself. Of Louis Farrakhan he said not "i agree with him" but "he is not my enemy." He refused to stoop to the level of condemning Islam, the only kind of condemnation that everyone still loves to hear. but to admit that there is even a grain of truth in his words would be to admit your own complacence in, and the ways in which you benefit from, the oppression of black people here in the US and the terror visited on poor people across the world as a result of american imperialism and american exceptionalism. to admit he might have a point is to admit that even though Farrakhan "did not put him in chains," you did. and that doesn't look great in the mirror.

this whole argument, i'm starting to feel, is a lost cause. our generation more and more seems to be incapable of self-criticism and self-reflection, and thus incapable of seeing ourselves through anyone's eyes but our own. I think that reverend wright's resurfacing in the media was a chance for people to think critically about the things he's saying that have so offended 'liberal' white america's sensibilities, and to think critically about why some 6,000 people would choose to attend his church if his ideas were so 'radical.' but its much easier to dismiss one man as crazy than it is to confront the reality that there is an entire population within this country that thinks those same thoughts, and that while many of us may not know those people at all, may have no idea what their lives are like or why they believe the things they do, those people know us very well indeed. they "know us by their scars and chains." and they have the ability, if we choose to listen, of helping us to truly know ourselves. but if this controversy has shown anything, its that we do not choose to listen, and we do not want to hear.

"It is not right, my fellow-countrymen, you who know very well all the crimes committed in our name, it's not at all right that you do not breathe a word about them to anyone, not even to your own soul, for fear of having to stand in judgment of yourself." - Jean-Paul Sartre

1 comment:

gromphus said...

Oh, kaya, yes again! Your posts always make me want to say that, but this time I also stumbled on another example for your argument. "Wright's Wrongs" in The Economist from May 3, 2008 disgusted and somewhat suprised me with its petulance and childish straw manning. Yes, I know this is The Economist we're talking about, but don't they ususally try at least to sound logically coherent? Where NYT says 'narcissism' The Ec. says 'egomania and jealously...' If, as The Ec. quotes, Wright would be "'coming after'" an elected Obama to remind him of his responsibilities toward the downtrodden, let's hope more people begin to understand what a wonderful thing that could be.