Gary MacDougal, who works with poor people to help them climb out of poverty, writes about just how harmful Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s message is, and not just because he hurts Barack Obama or even because he preaches racism. He and preachers like him proclaim the pervasive message that the poor people in their congregations have no hope, that they are doomed to be perpetual victims, and that their problems are always white people’s fault. This worldview, he says from experience, paralyzes people who need, instead, encouragement and prevents them from improving their lives.
Imagine getting up each morning to go to work in a society that doesn’t want you, doesn’t respect you and seeks to hold you back. Your spiritual leader has told you this, after all. With powerful rhetoric, Wright has asserted, for instance, that white America sees black women as useful only for their bodies. If this is the message you got from your mentor, would you expect that you could succeed? Would you try very hard, if at all?
Through my work with the Illinois governor’s task force on human services reform and its efforts to reduce welfare dependency, I have encountered misguided community “leaders” like Wright who tell their followers, for example, that the job market is stacked against them and that the jobs that are available aren’t good enough — that they are entitled to more. The underlying message: You can’t win because of who you are, regardless of what you do.