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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Where the Past Is Loudly Present

Yesterday the Florida legislature unanimously passed a resolution that apologized to African-Americans for slavery. While I do not object to that, I must confess that I feel absolutely no more guilt for the practice of slavery by people 150 years ago than I do for their hanging of witches in Colonial times. Since I am the product of Italian and British immigrants who settled in New England, it is also very unlikely that any of my actual ancestors ever practiced this abominable custom, anyway.

What I am, though, is proud that my ancestors in the United States and in Great Britain were the first civilizations ever in recorded history voluntarily to outlaw slavery, which has been praciced in every country since mankind began and which still goes on in parts of Africa and the Middle East. I am also proud that my country endured the bloodiest war in its history over the question of slavery - a war that resulted in the ending of that barbarity.

It is also absurd to judge previous generations against the standards of today regarding slavery, colonialism, war or in any other matter. Whether you are black or white, drowning in a spittle of hatred is self-defeating and harms the hater more than anyone else. Get over it; get on with your lives and be glad and be proud that you live in a free country that tries for equal justice for everyone against a background that all human beings are fallible.

Where the Past Is Loudly Present

Speech highlights views about race that are different as black and white

March 26, 2008, Kathleen Parker, Chicagotribune.com

WASHINGTON— Barack Obama's race speech didn't adequately answer the key question of his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., 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 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 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?

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 federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 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.

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post.

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2 Comments:

At 12:45 PM, Blogger fromwembley said...

Florida passed a resolution apologizing for slavery? I live in Florida and I didn't know this happened. What a waste of time. Florida Medicaid is broken, some of our communities are still recoverign from the 2004 hurricanes, our schools are mediocre...but the state found the time to apologize for something it's not even responsible for.

When is the rest of America going to learn that it owes blacks NOTHING? Blacks owe most of us an apology - for the hip hop culture they've polluted America with, for the rise in violent crimes across the U.S., etc. We have foreign people walking across the Sonora desert and within one generation becoming productive citizens. And we also have multi-generational black welfare families.

Why do blacks cling to the memory of slavery and lean on the crutch of "racism?" Because that's all they've got. Take away those two things and blacks would actually have to take some responsibility for their own actions and failures - and that would require strength that blacks just don't have.

 
At 3:23 AM, Anonymous Joe said...

Obama's minister, if you want to call him that,--is slowly taking him down piece by piece, and Obama is either too stubborn or too stupid to see that. We all heard the absurd Left wing rantings of this foolish raving lunatic, but there's no end to it. Now he's dissing Italians! Wright has already dissed "Whitey", the Jews, and the Italians. If he keeps this up, both Obama and Wright are going to have to find a hole and crawl into it. If Obama had the brains that God gave a chipmunk, he would have left that church years ago. It's bad enough that this so-called minister hates his own country, but what kind of a minister would use God's name in vane in cursing America, in front of his own church congregation? But-- then again,-- what would I know about it? I'm only a "typical white person",-- right? I only hope that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton go right down the drain. Both of them are liars and hypocrites. They don't deserve to even be in the offices that they now hold. Now,--some dope out there wants to bring Al Gore to the rescue. Ya,--right! That's just what the Democrats need right now. LOL

 

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