White Americans want to put race behind them, to move on. And many had hoped Obama was the man to make that happen. The big surprise was learning that he belongs to a church where the past is loudly present. Obama gave himself away when, in his speech, he paraphrased William Faulkner: "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past."
Black history, meanwhile, makes it possible for many to accept the theory advanced by Wright that white men invented the AIDS virus to destroy black populations. After all, the 40-year Tuskegee syphilis study, in which about 400 black men with syphilis were left untreated and uninformed as part of an experiment, was conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Public Health Service.
Given that history, the AIDS theory doesn't require much of a leap for many in the black community. The AIDS virus has hit African-Americans harder than any other group. For blacks in the United States, HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Even though blacks account for about 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 49 percent of those who get HIV and AIDS. Whites account for 31 percent.
A white person might view these statistics on the CDC Web site and understand that blacks suffer more in part because of barriers such as poverty, sexually transmitted disease and cultural stigmas that put blacks at higher risk. Blacks -- especially those under the spell of Wrighteousness -- might view the same information and at least wonder if something else is going on.
So, yes, there is work to be done. Between a history of distrust born of painful experience -- and people like Wright who keep that history alive and well-stoked -- racial harmony will require more than hope. It will also require that people like Obama speak up and object to harmful rhetoric, sooner rather than later, even if it hurts the ones he loves.
There's a reason why it's lonely at the top.