Tag Archives: politics

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What Traffic Can Teach Christians About Racism

So one of the problems I see in our political discourse, is that we often use the same words but mean different things.

And nowhere is that problem more vexing than in our discussions about race. It’s been a problem for a long time, of course, but ever since the election of Donald Trump, there have been a fresh round of arguments springing up on cable-news pundit panels, message boards and social media feeds. And the typical argument goes something like this:

 

Progressive: [Insert recent news story] is a clear example of racism! That [incident, action, statement or idea] is racist!

Conservative: No, it isn’t! Why do you make everything about race? That had nothing to do with race. [Insert person at the center of story] is not a racist!

Progressive: You don’t know what you’re talking about! Your denial of racism is racist!

Conservative: You don’t know what you’re talking about! Your accusation of racism makes you the real racist!

Rinse and repeat.

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How to Move Forward and Fight Better Political Battles (Starting Right Now)

Last night, I posted the following status update to my Facebook account:

 

Wait, there’s been reports of racial harassment to people of color from Trump supporters? Well, we shouldn’t be surprised.

I mean, when white Republicans send candidates to the White House, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending a candidate with supporters that have lots of problems. They’re bringing crime, and they’re racists, and some of them, I assume, are good people.

 

It was my tongue-in-cheek way of trying to get conservative Republicans who feel defensive about accusations of racism to see how it feels to be targeted rhetorically, and then to remind them that guess what? Your choice for president said this, and much more.

But satire is always a risky proposition when it comes to making a point, and most of the time it ends up serving as a way to signal congratulations from people who already agree with you. Last night’s post was no exception. A bunch of my Facebook friends who knew what I meant, laughed. (One friend said she laughed so hard, she ran out of capital letters. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahahahaha,” That cracked me up.)

On the other hand, a few of them responded somberly, aghast at the ideological divide that this election has revealed. They wanted to stick up for people they know who voted for Trump who they feel are good people who agonized over a difficult choice and just made it differently than I did.

I get that.

I still think they’re wrong for choosing Trump, but I get it.

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If You Still Haven’t Heard Hamilton Yet, We Might Not Be Friends Anymore

I wasn’t going to blog about it, but seeing the White House recently host a live performance by the Hamilton cast, I decided this couldn’t wait any further. But I want to be clear about something from the outset. This is not a post to convince you of how great Hamilton is and why you need to see or hear it.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly want more people to know about it, but if after reading this you decide to listen to the official cast recording, I claim no responsibility for the ensuing addiction that will follow.

On the contrary, this post is simply about what a profound effect Hamilton has had on me, and why. It’s about how Hamilton relates to what’s going on with me in my life (plenty of big changes!) and what’s going in America in general (also, plenty of big changes!). There are lessons to be learned that go way beyond the aesthetic pleasure of enjoying good music and watching a compelling stage performance. Indeed, I suspect that what makes Hamilton resonate so deeply inside me and so many others is its incredible sense of timeliness. It is, to crib a line from the Dark Knight trilogy, not the play that America deserves, but the play America needs, and needs greatly.

But alas, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Obama’s In, So No More Business As Usual


Well, he did it.

My brother lost the bet that he and I made several months back, wherein he all but swore on a Bible that there was no way that Barack Obama could beat John McCain in a general election.

I believe his quote was,

“A brotha… in these times? Against a war hero? Come on, now.

Honestly, I was convinced Obama would make a good president even before he finished consulting his exploratory committee, and almost two years ago, I said so in this space. (Though if I were to be honest, I’d have to give credit to Eric Zorn for saying so first.)

Two years later, he’s about to become president. As so many have said, his election signaled a momentous mile marker in the history of these United States of America, and for many reasons, most of which I need not enumerate.

However, I am concerned about the dark side of his imminent presidency.

No, not the Republicans-that-think-Obama-is-the-antichrist dark side. I’m not so much worried about his policies per se — though I do have some concerns, and I’ll surely have more as time goes on — as I am about his supporters.

Now here’s the thing… part of the reason why President-elect Obama won is because he was able to collect a broad constituency of supporters. People of color (however you choose to define that term), the educated, urban dwellers, and younger voters all turned out in record numbers for Obama. Black and White, straight and gay, in coastal cities and in so-called flyover states, many, many people chose to support his as their choice for president.

As a result, my generalizations about “Obama supporters” should not to be taken too broadly, as many of them will not fit sizable portions of his constituency, just as generalizations tend to fall flat when applied to any large group of people. There are always exceptions to the rule here.

On the other hand, if the shoe fits… you know the rest.

My biggest question for Obama supporters is this: what now?

If the biggest accomplishment in President-elect Obama’s campaign was successfully engaging people in the political process who had previously been relegated to the sidelines, then I fear the biggest letdown will be most of those people feeling satisfied, complacent, and ultimately returning to business as usual.

This is an understandable response, because right about now the emotional highs should be all but worn off. Even Chicagoans, who probably felt as much pride about Obama winning the presidency as they did about the Bears winning the Super Bowl, still have to confront the fact that they still live in Chicago. Just because their guy is about to take the highest office, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems in the here and now. Neighborhoods need help. Bills need to be paid.

The problem, though, with business as usual, is that it violates the spirit of all the promises that were made in the campaign. All the rhetoric of Obama-going-to-bridge-the-divides-and-usher-in-a-healing-dawn… well, if you were an Obama supporter and you meant it, then it’s time for you to do your part in living up to the promise. You can’t be all high-minded and idealist during a campaign, and then, now that your guy has been crowned, go back to doing things the way they’ve always been done.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about several things.

First, I’m talking about policy.

Those of you dyed-in-the-wool blue-state Dems should not expect the entire framework of policy advocacy coming from the executive branch to simply march to the left, because that’s not what Barack Obama promised. On several issues (none of which I will name because I don’t want to get too bogged down in minutia) he has been known to embrace certain tenets of conservative ideology — personal responsibility, for example.

Midway through Obama’s campaign, his policy wonks made several concessions here and there in order to maintain a broad constituency and ward off attacks of being the most liberal Senator in recent history. And even though it angered his vocal Democrat base … it worked. Obama was elected. So if he doesn’t back some of that talk up with pragmatic solutions rather than standard liberal dogma, the moderate, independant core of voters that sided with him will turn against him. And he and his staff are smart enough to know that. So those of you who expect the incoming Obama administration to be an avalanche of leftist initiatives, don’t hold your breath.

I’m not just talking about policy, though. I’m also talking about personal conduct, especially as it relates to the political process. Now I realize that some issues are hot-button issues, and no amount of high-minded speeches about unity will appease the rabid constituents on either side of the debate. (Gay marriage and Proposition 8, for example.)

But I hope that we can take some cues from our leaders and stop treating every issue like it’s “us against them.” The truth is, unless you’re talking about sports, most of the time it’s hard to figure out who represents “us” and who represents “them,” because people are different and different people respond to issues in different ways.

And since there is a clear Democratic majority in at least two of the three branches of our federal government, and since we can therefore expect some amount of public opinion and policy to gradually shift leftward, I hope Democrats will remember what it was like to be on the outside looking in, and be gracious enough to respect the opinions of those in the minority. After all, our president-elect made his case to America largely on his initial opposition to the war in Iraq, an unpopular stance at the time. There will surely be other urgent issues where many of our credentialed, experienced, qualified leaders will disagree. If Democrats simply resort to using their numbers to shout down the opposition, they’ll quickly relinquish the moral high ground that they worked so hard to gain. Because nothing screams “business as usual” like doing very the thing you’ve been accusing your opponents of doing.

Finally, it’s my sincere hope that admidst the throngs of inspired, dedicated Obama supporters, there will remain a remnant of folks who will continue to engage their government on state and city levels now that the hype has worn off.

Here in Portland where I reside, it’s a badge of honor for progressive types to complain about how terrible the Bush years have been for our country, which is one of the reasons why sarcastic, leftist bumper stickers sell so well here. Well guess what, folks? Our guy is going to become president now! How about we turn some of that energy into doing something better instead of simply complaining about it?

I was amused by so much celebrity support of Obama during the general election, because I knew supporting Obama was the hot, fashionable thing to do. But if more actors, NBA players, singers and artists of all flavors put a little less attention into being sexy and more attention into living lives of substance, then maybe our country would be better off. I would call some of them out by name like I did over the Tookie Williams thing, but there are just too many to mention, so I won’t.

Besides, celebrities can help bring attention and visibility to certain issues, but when it comes to doing the real work of healing America, the lion’s share of that burden falls on regular people, people like you, Whoever You Are. Policies can help, sure, but regulations can’t and won’t take the place of being respectful and choosing to engage in the areas where we have opportunity.

And when opportunity meets preparation, then boom … we’re in business.

Let’s just make sure it’s not business as usual.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for Mixin’ It Up with me.

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Apparently Change Takes Longer in Rural Universities, Even Christian Ones


Just when you think that White people have finally come to terms with an African-American candidate — dare I still say, front-runner — for the presidency, you see stuff like this.

Hot off the Oregonlive newsfeed: Obama likeness found hanging at George Fox University.

Considering that I know many George Fox alums (I’m related to one, good friends with another) and a few GF students (also related to one)… and, considering I came **this close** to landing a job there as campus liaison for the students in the Act Six program, I can honestly say that this story disturbed me pretty deeply. (Especially the tidbit that the effigy of Obama was labeled with the words ‘Act Six reject.’)

I will admit, however, that although it took awhile for the sting of losing out on that position to heal (as I am very passionate about reconciliation in academic and faith communities), from the outside looking in, I’m quite thankful not to be either Robin Baker or Joel Perez, who now have the unenviable task of sorting through this mess and leading the campus toward a greater sense of community and responsibility.

I’ve just now I’ve become aware of the departure of Burel Ford, the former multicultural director, which apparently happened just a few weeks ago. There’s probably no direct correlation between what happened today and his departure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the current working environment that precipitated this prank is part of what made it desirable for him to leave.

And, if that were the case, I wouldn’t entirely blame him for that choice.

It seems like only yesterday that I was removing posters with provocative imagery from the sign in front of my church.

Ah, the good old days, when racial tension only flared up in the city.

Lord, help us.

(No, that’s not just an expression. Seriously, Lord… help us.)

EDIT (9/30):

Four GFox students have since confessed. I might be wrong, but according to everything I’ve read, there goes the left-wingers-did-it-for-attention theory.

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Help, My Church Has Been “Vandalized”…


… by shadowy organization of neo-reconciliatory Christians.

That’s just the term that I’ve given to the four guys pictured on the poster that was seen mysteriously taped to the sign of my church (and to the wall of one of our buildings).

On the one hand, I agree with the overall sentiment of the poster. As Christians, we believe that our identity in Christ is the ultimate common denominator, and that by first being reconciled to God, we can minister grace and be reconciled to each other, and then extend that grace out to a world in desperate need of it.

On the other hand… the iconography of the sign is deliberately provocative, which is great if you’re the type of organization that is seeking out controversy, but most churches are not in that category because, sadly, controversy usually does not put butts in seats. (As a matter of fact, it usually removes them.)

Which is why my fear with those signs, the reason why I removed them, is that I wouldn’t want anyone to be confused. If all you see are the “stars and bars” design and you don’t read the words, it looks like white supremacist propaganda. And I don’t trust many churchgoers to be discerning enough to give it a thorough enough look to understand the meaning. I do, however, trust many of them to go flying off the handle and start complaining, loudly, to anyone within the vicinity. And that, our church does not need more of.

So they came down.

Still, I’m so intrigued…

Who did post this? Are there any more at other churches in our neighborhood? Are these four guys pictured even involved, or were they just victims of a rogue Photoshop session? And what was this poster supposed to accomplish? Was it just to stir up some thought and discussion among those of us who think there is no race issue in the church or in America? And considering everything that’s gone on with this presidential campaign, is there anyone left who still thinks this is not an issue?

As Arsenio used to say, these are things that make you go ‘hmm.’

(or, if you prefer, C+C Music Factory also said it.)

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More Links to Keep Making You Think (About the Campaign)


So much goodness, so little time. I tried to let go of this campaign stuff, but I can’t help it. There’s just so much worth reading and discussing. So in no particular order, I give you:

  • Gina Dalfonzo, one of my new favorite bloggers, holds it down at The Point. (And I’m not just saying that because I made her daily roundup.) Of her manifold posts, my current favorite is the one where, in one deft sentence, she refutes a hot mess of vaguely xenophobic misanthropy coming out of the LA Times. Apparently off-the-wall names are not exactly indicators of cultural degeneration… especially when other U.S. presidents have done it (not just VP nominees like Sarah Palin).
  • If you really like to read, and you’re not intimidated by academic publications, you ought to check out this thorough examination of why people tend to vote Republican, by Jonathan Haidt. In a nutshell, this UVa prof of psychology was able to, by spending time as an anthropologist in India, shed his liberal biases and come to a clearer understanding of the underlying girders of middle-American morality. In an offhand sort of way, this is like that old SNL bit when Eddie Murphy puts on white makeup to see what it would be like living as a White person in NYC … only without the dancing ladies serving drinks on the bus.
  • Joe Klein at Time magazine has put together a compelling portrait of the myth of Sarah Palin’s America. And while it examines many of Palin’s strengths, it points out the places where her ideology doesn’t exactly match up with reality. For example, small towns are still full of salt-of-the-earth type folks, but they are no longer our nation’s economic backbone. And the truth is, even in small towns, things are changing rapidly. (Case in point: I traveled a few days ago to Royal City, Wa. (population: 1950) to do an educational presentation for Making It Count at the local high school. What surprised me was that my audience of about 150 kids was mostly brown, and not white like I expected.)

  • Over at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, there has been plenty of lively discussion about both candidates and politics in general. In this thread, Scot lays out his summation of what he would consider an Obama presidency to look like. (A few days prior, he did the same for McCain.) If you want honest, passionate dialogue by and for Christians that doesn’t descend into the usual name-calling flamefest, you should check it out.

  • Also, I don’t know if this was intended to be a joke or not, but apparently John McCain’s Senate oversight was directly responsible for bringing us the BlackBerry.

  • Ryan Quinn at The Root shows his Wasillan pride by explaining all the reasons why people in his hometown are proud of Sarah Palin — and why she would make a terrible VP.

  • Over at Ed Gilbreath’s Reconciliation Blog, there’s some lively discussion surrounding the fallout of the infamous Obama waffles at the Values Voters Summit in Washington (including a healthy number of comments from yours truly). One thing I wonder… if waffle mix seller Bob DeMoss is related to Nancy Leigh DeMoss of “Revive Our Hearts,” and Nancy subscribes to the idea promoted by some of her contemporaries in the Christian life/marriage scene that men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti, does that mean that Obama should be a considered a man’s man now? Or does it mean that Chicagoans, leftists, and Obama supporters should eschew waffles for French toast as an act of solidarity? (And if they do… would they have the stomach to call it “freedom toast“?)

  • By the way, FRC Action, the people behind the Values Voters Summit, has apologized for allowing the waffle mix to be sold. Whether that’s an act of contrition or damage control is probably in the eye of the beholder, but either way, I’m glad.
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Links to make ya think: Obvious Edition

A glimpse at today’s headlines reveals a correlation between individuals who move up the chain of command and their inability to grasp the obvious.

Consider the latest sex scandal to sully a politician, where an avalanche of amorous text messages are threatening to be the downfall of Kwame Kilpatrick, the mayor of Detroit.

The obvious part is a money quote from Michigan’s Governor Jennifer Granholm, who asserted that she doesn’t know if Kilpatrick can survive the controversy intact.

Let me make it easy for you, Governor: NO. HE CANNOT.

According to multiple published reports, he perjured himself in the process of denying an affair with his chief of staff Christine Beatty, all while trying in vain to prevent a probe into his firing the deputy chief of police for trying to uncover the affair and other misdeeds.

Umm… no.

He’s not skating away from that.

If Senator Obama is still being raked over the coals for Tony Rezko and Dr. Jeremiah Wright… ain’t NO WAY brotha K is getting away with all that. I know Gov. Granholm was just trying to be diplomatic about her young Democrat ally, but still. With all the respect that I would have for a young, up-and-coming African-American mayor in a downtrodden city, it pains me to say this but… stick a fork in him, ’cause he’s done.

(For the record, I was going to end that with just “stick a fork in him” but I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to get all Michael Richards on my man.)

Almost as sad is reading accounts of Hillary Clinton’s spokesperson Howard Wolfson attempt damage control surrounding the now-refuted account of the former first lady’s landing during a trip to Bosnia.

Their assertion? She may have misspoke.

I know I’m treading in dangerous territory here, considering I’ve known to exaggerate a story or three for dramatic effect. And I’d be violating all kinds of journalistic guidelines if I didn’t also point out that Senator Obama has been taken to task from time to time for stretching the facts to fit the contour of his rhetorical narrative (media whack jobs notwithstanding).

But still… she misspoke? Really? Are you sure she didn’t just ‘misremember’? No politician would ever publicly admit to lying in the middle of a hotly contested race, but you have to hand it to the Clinton camp — they’ve certainly got cojones.

Sinbad had the funniest line yet, recently commenting on the supposed danger:

“What kind of president would say, ‘Hey, man, I can’t go ’cause I might get shot so I’m going to send my wife…oh, and take a guitar player and a comedian with you.'”


I’m not going to say Senator Clinton has a big head, but if you look real closely at the Bosnia video, I think the little girl greeting her is really Lucy trying to snatch away the football.

In other news, the New York Knicks are finally ( and “–Allegedly!!–” as Rome would say) getting around to replacing Isiah Thomas. But amazingly enough, the fact that Isiah needs to go is not the most staggeringly obvious part. Rather, it’s that the fans have known this since the beginning of the season.

Which has somehow eluded the brilliant minds at Madison Square Garden, because they’re emailing fans, asking for their input on the state of the team.

Hearing thousands chant “Fire Isiah” day after day didn’t make it clear enough?



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Links to Make You Think: Ignorant Edition

I usually don’t like to pile on like this, but sometimes abject ignorance can be hilarious. And as always, I’ve tried to give equal access to the truly ignorant among us.

First, the mild:

Korean pop star promises to sell nude photos anywhere but Japan. I know, it’s pretty tame on the Ignor-A-Meter, but it just makes me laugh. Like they’re not already on the internet, where anyone — Japanese or not — can get to them.

Way to take the moral high ground on your nude photos, lass. Stay classy, San Diego.

Now the just-plain-sad:

Bush unaware of rising gas prices.

“Really… ” he says, with a hint of condescension. “I hadn’t heard that.”

Again, we all know that Dubya is not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, but still… at least act like you know.

But finally… the coup de grace

DMX has no idea who Barack Obama is.

Seriously. Almost as ridiculous as the idea of him doing a gospel album (which he mentions in the beginning), is when the person doing the interview of the once-popular rapper DMX for XXL magazine mentions Senator Obama and the upcoming presidential race, and he has no idea what they’re talking about:

Are you following the presidential race?
Not at all.

You’re not? You know there’s a Black guy running, Barack Obama and then there’s Hillary Clinton.
His name is Barack?!

Barack Obama, yeah.

Barack?!

Barack.
What the f*** is a Barack?! Barack Obama. Where he from, Africa?

Yeah, his dad is from Kenya.
Barack Obama?

Yeah.
What the f***?! That ain’t no f***in’ name, yo. That ain’t that nigga’s name. You can’t be serious. Barack Obama. Get the f*** outta here.

You’re telling me you haven’t heard about him before.
I ain’t really paying much attention.

As the man himself once said,

“Y’all gon’ make me LOSE MY MIND… up in here, up in here!”

Apparently, we’re too late.

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Barack Obama’s Philadelphia Speech on Race in America


(This text copied from The Drudge Report.)

OBAMA SPEECH IN FULL: A MORE PERFECT UNION
Tuesday, March 18th, 2008/ 10:17:53 ET
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. 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 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. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. 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 in our condition, and 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’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; 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 prejudiced, 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. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

END