The senator's juxtapositions to his condemnation of his pastor's incendiary racism made it of a piece with the deeply hurtful description of his grandmother's fear of black men passing her on the street. (Rev. Jesse Jackson once confessed to similar fears.) Sen. Obama's feelings for his grandmother offer painful insight into his psychology. We can hardly imagine how difficult it was for him as a multiracial boy to hear his white grandmother suggest that when he grew up, he would be the kind of man who would frighten her. How ironic he chose a spiritual mentor whose tirades no doubt would have frightened her, too.
Obama deftly quoted William Faulkner's famous remark that the past is not dead because it isn't even past. But the reference was misplaced. The past when a black man was considered three-fifths of a person for purposes of allocating congressional seats is definitely dead, and buried. The past when black men and women were denied the right to vote is definitely dead and buried. The past when all Americans were required to pay a poll tax to vote is definitely dead, and buried. The past when restaurants, restrooms and schools were segregated by law is definitely dead, and buried.
He was correct in observing that Jeremiah Wright and millions of other black Americans came of age when segregation was still the law of the land and widely practiced even in places where it was not the law. But it's important to observe that they, like the rest of us, have also matured if not necessarily mellowed in the four decades since the Civil Rights Movement turned things upside down and inside out, putting them aright.
There will always be more to do in order to create that elusive "more perfect union," but it's important for spiritual -- and political -- leaders to remind us that social conscience has sometimes done its work, that some things in the past are definitely dead, and buried.
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