The conversations, debates and introspection on race in America
continue, and though they encompass the nation and its leaders, they
center on Barack Obama.
After he gave his speech to address the Jeremiah Wright controversy
and the racial tension it produced, he was compared by some to leaders
ranging from Presidents Lincoln or Kennedy, and Wright to Dr. Martin
Luther King. Political analyst Juan Williams explains well why neither analogy is apt, and he offers compelling insights about the candidacy of Barack Obama.
Among his white supporters, race is coincidental, not
central, to his political identity. Mr. Obama is to them the candidate
who personifies the promise of equal opportunity for all. But as black
support has become central to his victories, this idealistic view has
been increasingly at war with the portrayal, crafted by the senator to
win black support, of him as the black candidate. The terrible tension
between these racially distinct views now surrounds and threatens his
So far, Mr. Obama has been content to let black people have their
vision of him while white people hold to a separate, segregated
reality. He is a politician and, unlike King, his goal is winning
votes, not changing hearts. Still, it is a key break from the King
tradition to sell different messages to different audiences based on
race, and to fail to challenge racial divisions in the nation.
Juan Williams (for those unfamiliar with him) is a thoughtful,
intellectual African American journalist who works for NPR, serves as a
Fox News contributor, writes articles like the one here for other
publications, and has authored several books, the latest an excellent
one called Enough with this subtitle: The Phony Leaders, Dead-end Movements, and Culture of Failure that are Undermining Black America – And What We Can Do About It. He is, as one review says, bold and perceptive.
The WSJ article continues…
Mr. Obama’s major speech on race last month was forced
from him only after a political crisis erupted: It became widely known
that he’d sat for 20 years in the pews of a church where Rev. Jeremiah
Wright lashed out at white people. The minister cursed America as
worthy of damnation, made lewd suggestions about the nature of
President Clinton’s relationship with black voters, and embraced the
paranoid idea that the white government was spreading AIDS among black
Here is where the racial tension at the heart of Mr. Obama’s
campaign flared into view. He either shared these beliefs or, lacking
good judgment, decided it politically expedient for an ambitious young
black politician trying to prove his solidarity with all things black,
to be associated with these rants. His judgment and leadership on the
critical issue of race is in question.
While speaking to black people, King never condescended to offer
Rev. Wright-style diatribes or conspiracy theories. He did not paint
black people as victims. To the contrary, he spoke about black people
as American patriots who believed in the democratic ideals of the
country, in nonviolence and the Judeo-Christian ethic, even as they
overcame slavery, discrimination and disadvantage. King challenged
white America to do the same, to live up to their ideals and create
racial unity. He challenged white Christians, asking them how they
could treat their fellow black Christians as anything but brothers in
Read the whole piece, it’s informative and intellectually honest.
Fair, and challenging. What the national debate needs going forward.