Archive for April, 2008

Wright or Wrong?: My Take

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

I give up trying to get anything productive done today. I haven’t been able to focus for all the emails and phone calls from the media requesting comments on the latest Jeremiah Wright/ Barack Obama spectacle. I may as well let my blog readers in on the discussions I’ve been having with family, friends, and interviewers over the last couple of days.

What do you make of the latest round of speeches Jeremiah Wright has given over the last few days, forcing Barack Obama to come back out and put even more distance between himself and his former pastor?

What we see is that despite its signature wall of separation between church-state, America continues to be a place where religion and politics are deeply entwined. We are curious about the religious beliefs of our politicians because we think a person’s religious beliefs say a lot (or ought to say something) about the way that person treats people and does politics.

But more to the point, what we see here is how both religion and politics have the potential to drive wedges between families, friends, and members of the same faith and political groups.

What are we to make of the timing of Jeremiah Wright’s latest round of media appearances?

First, when would have been a better time for Wright to come out and start speaking again? Invitations to speak for the NAACP are issued months ahead, and booking the National Press Club is not something granted you just because you asked. Meaning, these engagement have probably been on the books for awhile. Besides, I know Jeremiah Wright is a minister, but do we really think Wright had the prophetic gift of foreseeing Obama losing Pennsylvania far enough in advance to choose this as the ideal time for reminding the American public of his history with Barack Obama?

What do you make of the rumor that someone in Hillary Clinton’s camp hired Jeremiah Wright for the National Press Club speech?

I love conspiracy theories too. But, are you kidding? You obviously don’t know Jeremiah Wright. And neither does Hillary Clinton know Jeremiah Wright, if it’s true. Haven’t you noticed? Jeremiah Wright is just as apt to rip into a Clinton as he is to rip into the U.S. gov’t.

Is Jeremiah Wright doing this to get back at Barack Obama?

Why does everything have to be about Barack Obama? Can it be that the only thing on Jeremiah Wright’s mind is clearing his name and not leaving to Obama to define who he is which Obama sought to do last month when he cast Wright as the eccentric uncle everyone has in their family? Perhaps Wright sees this as an opportunity to use the spotlight on him to shed  broader light on the black church.Wright Obama

Did you get the feeling from watching Jeremiah Wright speak there at the National Press Club that this was all about male ego?

All about male ego? No. Is male ego at work somewhere in all that’s going on? Yes. What else is new? When has male ego not been a driving force in politics and religion?

Here we have this historic chance to get a Black man in the White House, certainly Jeremiah Wright understands the importance of this moment, knows the consequences his comments are likely to have on Obama’s campaign, and wouldn’t want to blow the chance for a former member of his congregation to become President of the United States.

Is that a question or a statement? Both men have made it clear. One is a politician and the other is a preacher. Both seem prepared to do what he has to do to get his message out there. 

Am I hearing Obama’s supporters saying:  “Don’t blow it for Obama. Keep all the colorful relatives in the attic until after the election”? If it is, it doesn’t work that way. If 90% of black voters are behind Barack Obama, as his supporters like to claim, then Obama can’t court black votes and expect black people to shut up and remain on their best behavior just so he an make a good impression on others. Besides, I thought Obama is the candidate who’s trying to bring the races together and sow seeds of reconciliation. Well, here comes Uncle Jeremiah to the reunion. Make them love and embrace Uncle Jeremiah, and you’ve done something.

Do you think this latest Wright/Obama spectacle has hurt Obama’s bid for the White House?

That depends. This latest drama will not cause black people to desert Barack Obama. Black people are smart enough to see through the drama. Now, will it turn white voters off from voting for Barack Obama? I don’t know. I’m not a white voter. I’ll venture an educated guess and say that I suspect that it will turn off some white voters. Correction: I suspect that it will turn off a lot of white voters. (Teh heh. Teh heh.) But will it turn off enough white voters to sink Obama’s campaign? That remains to be seen in the coming weeks. But I will say this: if the only way white voters feel comfortable voting for Obama is if he distances himself from fiery, brash, radical thinking black men of his past, like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, then Barack Obama may win the White House, but he’ll be forever a loser in the eyes of his own people (the black ones anyway).

Do you agree that Wright is the one under fire, not the black church.

Both are under fire.

Here’s something we can all agree on: Jeremiah Wright is no Joel Oesteen, that’s for sure.  Jeremiah Wright’s fiery, defiant, idiosyncratic personality notwithstanding, ignorance about the black church, about black liberation preaching, and about black preaching abound in this whole political spectacle. The black church is under fire if the only kind of black preacher that white America will tolerate as pastor to its aspiring black presidential candidate is one who does not criticize America from the pulpit, does not comment on white privilege in her or his sermons, and is humble and remorseful when s/he has been clobbered by the media – then the black church is definitely part of what’s under fire in this drama.

Which brings me to my last point.
The worst thing that can happen is for black people to let the media make us choose between Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright. We must hold on to both men recognizing that both are fighting powers beyond their control and navigating and negotiating them the best way they know how. Though neither has been faultless in the way he has projected himself, both men represent styles of leadership, masculinity, and oratory that we’ve come to appreciate in the black community and which we shouldn’t have to choose between because we need both. Barack Obama: calm, measured, deliberate, and idealistic, and Jeremiah Wright: fiery, brash, defiant, and pragmatic.

Now, if you don’t mind I’ll go back to reading the biography on Hillary Clinton that I started last evening.

Wear Red on April 30

Monday, April 28th, 2008

I want to thank Fal and everyone over at Document the Silence for giving me permission to share a video presentation they’ve put together to raise consciousness about the epidemic of sexual assault crimes against women of color both here in the United States and around the world.  As I stated in an earlier Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Red. post, black women in the church need to know about and need to get involved with national and international organizations that are working on behalf of women everywhere who have been victimized.

I want to thank WOC in blogosphere who used April to raise awareness about the Congo rape epidemics as well as the genocide taking place in Darfur.   I was bogged down in travel and other obligations on the specific date is April WOC bloggers set aside to use our blogs to call attention to specif attrocities, and couldn’t write the kind of post I wanted . But today is as good a day as any to add my voice to those keening and inveighing against the murders and militarized rapes that are endemic to what goes on in war torn areas around the world.   

I want to thank Sojourner 4 Truth for reminding me that April is the 14th anniversary of the Rwandan genocides and for passing along information about Left to Tell, Immaculee Ilibagiza’s powerful memoir of both how she survived the  Rwandan genocide (by hiding out, along with 7 other women, in a pastor’s bathroom for 91 days) and how she managed to maintain and strengthen her faith during the trauma of that ordeal. Says Sojourner 4 Truth: “I read [Left to Tell] with the teens from my Rites of Passage Collective and they were so moved that they could not put the book down. We finished reading it in 3 days. They even read it to their parents!!!”

The presentation is about 5 minutes long– which is a long time for busy, busy women to sit and watch something on the computer, especially something that’s not a dance or music video. Five minutes. A long time if you’re sitting in front of a computer multi-tasking and trying to dash to the next project on your list. Five minutes.  A life time if you’re one of the hundreds of women around the world who are Right Now being raped and/or murdered.

(Be sure the volume is up on your computer so you can hear the “Sweet Honey” sound clip.)

Hey, What Are You Reading?

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Here’s to World Book and Copyright Day.

April 23rd has been set aside by UNESCO to pay world-wide tribute to books and authors, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people around the world, to discover the pleasures of reading. Why April 23rd?  Because on this date in 1616, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died.

So, what are you reading today? this week?  this month? What book is there on your night table waiting for you to return to its pages?

Blogging competes with book reading, I’ve discovered. I haven’t read as many books  as I’d like since I started blogging a year ago. I’ve got to do better. Writers are only as good as the books they read. I run out of ideas when I don’t read.

Here are just a few of the books I ordered recently from that are waiting to kidnap me and transport me to new worlds of thinking and being.

a reader 

Dark Designs and Visual Culture is Michelle Wallace’s newest collection of essays. Remember Wallace?  Her brave and controversial first book Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman sent black men into the streets screaming in 1979 and sent black women scrambling to put distance between themselves and feminism.

Words of Fire, Spirit of Grace is a collection of sermons by one of my former students, Grace Imathiu, a United Methodist minister from Kenya. Grace is an outstanding preacher.

The Word Militant: Preaching a Decentering Word by Walter Brueggemann is bound to be helpful to anyone committed to preaching with justice and liberation as central themes.  

Bookmarks: Reading in Black and White is part memoir, part historical research on the reading habit of writers by Karla Holloway. In it she asks questions like: What have you read? How did you learn to read? Where were your ‘protected and isolated spaces’ for reading?

Ah yes, and then there’s my favorite fiction: fantasy and speculative fiction. Beside me on the couch right now is Sheri Tepper’s The Margarets which I look forward to cracking open shortly. What I love most about speculative fiction is that it invites you into a world where sex and gender roles are called into question, a world of foundlings, shape-changers, wizards, fairies, gods and goddesses, where it’s possible for women to possess magical powers, where evil is to be battled against, and where mystery is to be respected. If you enjoy the stories of the Bible, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy speculative fiction too.

That’s what I’m reading. How about you? What are you reading?

Michelle O and The Politics of Style

Monday, April 21st, 2008

You would think that I would know better than to ask readers to peep behind the public image that’s being carefully crafted for Michelle Obama.

Afterall, Michelle Obama is one of the lucky ones. Wives of beloved male leaders are not always able to count on the public’s adoration for their husbands automatically extending to them. But Michelle Obama is different. Women I know are utterly taken with Michelle Obama. Myself included. We all secretly hope that if Barack Obama is elected, Michelle Obama will be able to use her office as First Lady to redeem the tarnished and maligned image of black womanhood. Did I mention that Black women have impossibly high expectations of Michelle Obama?

You would think then that I would know better than to ask Black women what they make of the comparisons that keep cropping up between Michelle Obama and former First Lady, Jackie Kennedy.

For those of you who think I have something against Michelle Obama, I don’t. I’ve mentioned before here on this blog my profound respect for Michelle Obama as a smart, articulate, independent Black woman. Others are taken with what they see as her grace, class, and elegance. Despite the flak she received for comments she made a few months back about America and other gaffes she’s made here and there during the campaign, interviewees never fail to swoon over Michelle Obama as someone who’s model-gorgeous (meaning, thin) with amazing classic style. (Check out Stephen Colbert’s interview of Michelle Obama the other week. Judging from the way even my fellow bloggers continue to gush over the interview, evidently it’s supposed to be the height of flattery when a white man fawns over a black woman and pretends to hit on one of us on national television.)

But what are we to make of the growing buzz that draws comparisons between Michelle O and Jackie O? And before everyone writes in saying that there’s nothing to the comparisons.

You mean you thought it was all media hype?

Do you mean to say that you thought the bouffant hairstyle, the pearl necklace, the short sleeve “A” line dresses, and other stylisms evoking a bygone era,  were purely coincidental on Obama’s part? If she ever dons that vintage Jackie-O pill box hat I guess that’s when we’ll know for sure.

Listen up. Just like politicians pay speech writers to help them come up with language, phrases, and speeches that will stay with voters, politicians pay consultants lots of money to help them craft an image of themselves that will stick in the minds of voters and that will distinguish them from the rest of the pack.

michelle All of which is to say that comparisons between the Obamas and the Kennedys are not imaginary. It’s no secret that Obama and his people are eager to  infuse a Camelot vibe around Obama’s candidacy. Obama was joined as early as the Iowa primary by Ted Sorensen, the JFK and RFK speechwriter and aide who is one of the last politically active members of President Kennedy’s inner circle. Obama’s speeches are thick with talk about unity and higher purpose that were the essential themes of John Kennedy’s stump speeches and, like Kennedy’s speeches, are tailored to draw younger people who gravitate to speeches filled with talk about change and hope.

Hey, I’m a minister and a writer. I understand the importance of situating oneself in a tradition, a school of thinking, an ideological vibe.

 But what are we to make of candidates (and their wives) who self-consciously attempt to physically draw connections between themselves and icons of the past? What if it’s true that the Michelle O-Jackie O style comparisons are intentional? Does it bother Black women? Are we being naïve to think that Michelle Obama is not to be compared with otherFirst Ladies? If there’s truth to the charge that the Obama camp is deliberately playing on the Kennedy mystique, does it defeat everything black women have fought for that Michelle Obama has to suggest similiarities between herself and Jacqueline Kennedy in order for her to be accepted and imaginable as the First Lady of the country?