The Rev. Wright Effect; Rice on Raceby Jim Wallis
We were never likely to get away with “transcending” race in this election as the early Obama campaign suggested to some. The demons of race in America simply run too deep and were bound to eventually rear their ugly heads. And so they did with the now infamous taped sound bites by Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the furious media response to them. I’ve said before that the constant replaying of the tapes has become a metaphor for the continual replaying of our old racial tapes in this country. Black anger and frustration because of real grievances, provoking white indignation revealing the lack of white understanding, causing more black frustration and alienation etc; it just goes on and on.
So Barack Obama had to give a major speech on race that he likely hoped not to have to give. But it was an historic statement, offering a deeper vision and hope of our forming “a more perfect union” than we had heard in many decades. After the speech, the ball was again in America’s court—in white America’s court in particular. Would the nation respond to Obama’s hopeful vision, of turning a corner from racial anger and frustration to new opportunity and unity, or would his candidacy be derailed by his pastor’s mixture of prophetic black preaching and unfortunate overstatements? While it will likely take weeks and even months to know the final answer to that central question, the first polls taken since Wright tapes and Obama’s speech suggest that it has not hurt his candidacy in the ways that some had feared. As the Pew Research Center reported yesterday on its new poll, “the Wright controversy does not appear to have undermined support for Obama’s candidacy.”
Another important voice entered the conversation yesterday. In an interview with The Washington Times, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said:
Black Americans were a founding population. Africans and Europeans came here and founded this country together — Europeans by choice and Africans in chains. That’s not a very pretty reality of our founding. … That particular birth defect makes it hard for us to confront it, hard for us to talk about it, and hard for us to realize that it has continuing relevance for who we are today.
Because this issue is now about much more than a candidate or an election, but about the issue of race in America, the poll results and the voice of the highest-ranking black official in the country provide a small glimmer of hope that the nation may be ready to try and take a step forward. Obama should be judged, as should any candidate, on the basis of his policy positions and leadership capacity, not because of our old racial tapes.