Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama's race speech didn't adequately answer the key question of his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but his comments were revelatory in important ways.

What Obama highlighted, if indirectly, is the dormant disconnect between much of black and white America. And what he revealed, if accidentally, is that he has contributed to that disconnect as a passive participant.

We need to talk, Obama says. So let's talk.

What has become clear in the several days since Obama's speech in Philadelphia is that blacks and whites see things differently -- in some cases, as different as black and white.

To the average white American, especially one who doesn't subscribe to the fire-and-brimstone school of religious expression, Wright is an unfamiliar character. He may be a Christian but his orientation is African and he speaks the language of white conspiracy.

What was jolting for many whites wasn't that Wright has a following -- to each his own -- but that Obama, a man who intends to lead an entire country, found a home among the pews of Wright's church. That Obama eventually distanced himself from some of Wright's rhetoric only raises the second question: What took so long?

How can anyone sit in a church where the minister says, for instance, that the U.S. government invented the AIDS virus to kill blacks? Obama may have been too young or too naive at some point along his 20-year relationship with Wright, but eventually, shouldn't the man who became an Illinois state senator and then a U.S. senator and then a presidential contender have spoken up before he was forced to?

Those are reasonable questions, but they are mostly white questions. Blacks have others. Obama was correct when he said that Wright, though sometimes wrong, spoke to deep wounds and a history most whites don't like to examine too closely.

The historical experience of blacks and whites in this country couldn't be more different. Whites know it intellectually, but blacks feel it viscerally. No matter how many books we read or movies we watch, whites can never quite grasp what it is to be black or to be descended from people who were denied their humanity and enslaved by whites with the benign approval of the state.

But we didn't do it, we protest. Our children aren't guilty. When is enough enough? Why must preachers such as Wright insist on fanning those flames?

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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