Deconstructing Barack’s Disinvitation

by Dax-Devlon Ross

I had several genuinely pissed-off moments while reading the latest New York Times article on Barack Obama earlier today. For those of you who didn’t catch the article, this gist of it is this: Barack Obama called his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the man to whom he owes the title of speech that rocketed him to fame (The Audacity of Hope) and much more, and withdrew his invitation to speak at Barack’s presidential announcement ceremony on February 10th. Before I offer my thoughts on whether he was right or wrong (much less whether in an inherently anti-intellectual/soundbyte driven society such as ours we should even be debating right and wrong), I have to point out some of the latent (and yet loaded) choices the writer made, choices that ultimately reveal the media’s institutional ineptitude and bias.

 Obama and Wright

Quote #1: “Mr. Wright’s church, the 8,000-member Trinity United Church of Christ, is considered mainstream — Oprah Winfrey has attended services, and many members are prominent black professionals.”

Translation: Since Oprah and other well-to-do blacks attend this church it can’t possibly be militant because, well, what do these people have to complain about, they’ve achieved the American Dream.

Defective Reasoning: The author would probably do well to read Ellis Cose’s The Rage of the Privileged Class. In the contemporary African-American context, the most existentially frustrated class of blacks tends to be the middle-class. First, they bought into the system, bought into the belief that if they played ball, they would receive fair treatment. The fact is, the success of these “prominent black professionals” has not come without a tremendous cost, psychologically and emotionally. Moreover, the most militant blacks at the turn of the century, those that attended the Niagara Movement and fought alongside Du Bois in his battle with Booker T. Washington, were educated, middle-class blacks. In the thirties Ralph Bunchie, E. Franklin Frazier, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, Du Bois and many others championed Marxism (and in Du Bois’ case Nationalism) even though they, comparatively speaking, had it good. I could go on, but the point is that people, particularly white people, have failed to truly understand the conflicted psychology of black America, which is something Barack Obama, as a recent Rolling Stone article has pointed out, embodies. Quite simply, being middle-class does not preclude the sting of oppression or the identification with those who are still lodged under the weighty foot of American racism.

Quote #2: (actually, this is a Sharpton quote) “I have not discussed this with Senator Obama in detail, but I can see why callers of mine and other clergymen would be concerned, because the issue is standing by your own pastor.”

Translation: The other, more ensconced “race leader” does not approve. Let’s divide black leadership (like always), even if it’s only symbolic, as is the case with Sharpton, who clearly does not (and I don’t dislike the man) represent the ideals, ideas or opinions of the mass of black people.

Defective Reasoning #1: Using Sharpton is a huge problem. For one, he is not the only black man with an opinion! When will mainstream media refrain from insulting the dynamic and complex nature of black American thought by whittling it down into a controversy between two styles of leadership. Just two years ago, when Sharpton was running for President, he was the one being panned by other “leaders” in the press. Please, mainstream media, stop this!

Defective Reasoning #2: Sharpton is wrong. The issue is not, in my opinion, “standing by your pastor” at the peril of a campaign for President. First of, all Mr. Sharpton is not speaking as a disinterested party here. He, lest we forget, is a man of faith. So of course he is going to defend his pulpit brethren.

Quote #3: “Since Mr. Obama made his presidential ambitions clear, conservatives have drawn attention to his close relationship to Mr. Wright and to the church’s emphasis on black empowerment.”

Translation: Need I say it? Black folks organizing and airing their grievances is still a threat to white people, not just conservatives, who would rather see the whole race thing just go away. If elected, Barack, because of his relationship with Wright, will undoubtedly be influenced in his decsionsmaking. This, sadly, is an old line consistently used by racists and fear-mongers. It was once used to argue that the every radical black organization was under the influence of Moscow. It removes all agency from blacks themselves and points to some clandestine puppet master pulling their strings. Tired.

Defective Reasoning: What exactly does the writer mean by “black empowerment.” Not only is the term vague and misleading, it come off, in this context, virulently race-baiting and, again, condescending. Does the writer really mean “Black Power” or does she mean something less confrontational. Because if it’s the latter meaning, we’ve got a problem, a real problem. “Empowerment Zones” are in fact terms used to describe urban enclaves in which blacks and other minorities have been given near exclusive opportunities to compete with white businesses because of the crooked underpinning, foundations if you will, of this country. “Empowerment” is not code for the coming black revolution, therefore its use in this context reveals an inexcusable naivete when it comes to understanding the struggle blacks have been faced with to achieve some sort of economic parity in this country.

 Wright on Hannity

Quote #4: “Mr. Wright said Mr. Obama called him the night before the Feb. 10 announcement and rescinded the invitation to give the invocation.”

Translation: Barack is a last-minute Benedict Arnold. He will turn his back on his closest allies at the last minute. He didn’t even have the decency to call the man to whom he owes so much in advance. He can’t be trusted, clearly.

Defective Reasoning: The author simply failed to mention that the Rolling Stone article that effectively prompted Barack to change his mind came was posted online of February 7th, a mere two days before he called Wright. What that tells me is that he must’ve deliberated with his aides and come to a conclusion at the last minute that he genuinely struggled with. The fact is, the author fails to mention these time frames, which are extremely instructive and give pause to any ideas that Barack waited until the last moment to pull Wright, which isn’t entirely implausible but need not be privileged as the only rationale when there is circumstantial evidence to controvert that opinion.

So, where do I stand on Barack’s decision. I wasn’t sure until I read the Rolling Stone article in which one of Wright’s sermons is quoted. Whatever valid points the reverend made were lost beneath the propaganda and rhetoric, the hyped-up, over-the-top flamboyance of a man carried away by the approval of his audience. As brilliant and articulate and right as he might be at times, the fact is he is a political land mine, something he went even further in proving on Hannity & Colmes, which, incidentally was an ill-advised move on his part that showed his 1) vanity 2) opportunism. Why would this man go on an incindiary show like Hannity & Colms? What was he expecting to prove?

At this point, Barack represents more than his church. He represents the hopes of people around the world who believe he can be the change the country, and world, needs. It wouldn’t be fair to all of those people if his campaign ended before it began. I trust that Barack’s decision was a difficult one. He wouldn’t have invited Wright in the first place if he didn’t have faith in him; however, the quotes in Rolling Stone were just too damaging to a movement, which at this point, is bigger than just Barack Obama.