What struck me about the controversy over Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory anti-American and anti-White preaching is that in the television coverage I saw the African-American pastors and laity who were asked about it seemed to basically agree with him! He does articulate what lots of black people believe. So I’ll give credit to Barack Obama for his speech on racial relations. Here is the transcript. He talks about the anger felt by black people AND, in something I don’t ever remember hearing in this context, the anger of white people, which unlike most Democrats he does not simply reduce to racism:
For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co- workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or the beauty shop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians to gin up votes along racial lines or to make up for a politician’s own failings. And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews.
That anger is not always productive. Indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems. It keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity within the African-American community in our condition, it prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real, it is powerful, and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience. As far as they’re concerned, no one handed them anything, they built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pensions dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and they feel their dreams slipping away. And in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.
So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town, when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed, when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudice, resentment builds over time.
Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation.
Can this anger gap be healed instead of being stirred up?