Ken Connor

Can America have a rational discussion about race?

That remains to be seen and a lot has to do with who is doing the talking.

In the case of Jeremiah Wright, the answer is emphatically no. Wright served as pastor at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ for decades and has been Barack Obama's pastor for 20 years. His rhetoric on race reveals him to be a race baiting, America hating demagogue who used his pulpit to fan the flames of racial hatred rather than use the Gospel as a balm for racial healing. His imprecations to God to damn America, his condemnation of "rich white people", and his placement of the blame on America for the terrorist acts of September 11 represent anything but an attempt to bridge the racial divide that has long existed in America.

And because racism is contagious, many Americans have come to fear it may have infected Sen. Obama, a protégé of Rev. Wright. Recognizing the political liability of guilt by association, Sen. Obama delivered a poignant address on race in America aimed at defusing the crisis created by the Reverend's hateful rhetoric. Sen. Obama spoke in measured tones about the need for real dialogue between all Americans about past racial injustices and the potential for future reconciliation.

All Americans should welcome the opportunity to have a thoughtful and sensitive dialogue about race in America. While our country has made great strides in leveling the playing field between blacks and whites, the inescapable fact is that the after effects of slavery and racial discrimination persist in our society today. While we can't change our history, we can shape our future and the best way to do so is by candidly acknowledging where things stand in the present.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.