Here's another angle on the Obama-Wright uproar. Imagine being told as a child: "You carry bad blood." Then imagine this stigma was placed on you by one side of your family, in reference to your heritage from the other side of the family.
I honestly can't begin to imagine how that would have felt or what it would have done to me. But I think it would have marked me unforgettably. It would have stayed with me for a long time, even if I ultimately overcame it and went on to have a successful life and feel good about myself.
Then try to imagine looking in the mirror as you're growing up, and having the whole society where you live send much the same message about your bloodlines and those of your relatives and everyone else who looks like you. I can't imagine that either. Even the effort to walk in those shoes gives me a stab of pain, the sense of a soul-deadening burden.
These two scenarios describe, I believe without unfair exaggeration, the personal experience of Sen. Barack Obama and the collective experience of most black Americans for almost 400 years now. They've been on my mind since reading (not hearing) Obama's speech on race in American life, given March 18 in Philadelphia amid controversy over the Afrocentric, anti-American sermons of his longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Obama didn't say his mother's mother told him in so many words that he carried bad blood. But that's the implication I take from his comments about the white grandmother's unthinking racial slurs and her expressed fear of black men. "That's me," the young boy might think. "That's my dad." Would it hurt? Would it stay with you? How could it not?
So I am not particularly offended, as many of my fellow conservatives have been, by Obama's mention of this experience in his speech. Rather I'm troubled by it. It stirs me. It takes me way out of my comfort zone, which is probably not a bad thing.
His implied equation of grandma's momentary private prejudices or bigotry with Rev. Wright's years of public rage and race-baiting does have a note of intellectual dishonesty that reflects poorly on the senator's fitness for the presidency. Yet that doesn't negate the object lesson we all have an opportunity to learn from this uncomfortable episode of the past week.
What we've seen and heard on the Trinity Church video clips -- the enthusiasm of the congregation, even more than the ranting of the pastor -- along with the constructive candor from Obama himself about seldom-discussed issues of resentment and stereotyping between blacks and whites, challenges us to walk in the shoes of African-Americans more empathetically than most of us (me for sure) may ever have done before.
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