Michael C. Dawson: Is Obama Wrong About Wright?

I encourage people to read Michael Dawson’s piece about how Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s views are actually mainstream in the Black community. As a student of African American history, I admire Dawson’s work in the area of political science, in teasing out the various Blackamerican political attitudes and doing work on determining the popularity of different strands of ideology in the Blackamerican community today. See his work “Black Visions.”

“March 17, 2008 — Senator Obama is mistaken. The problem with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the Chicago minister who is the Obama family’s pastor and the subject of recent fierce attacks in the media, is not, as Obama has stated, that “he has a lot of the…baggage of those times,” (those times being the 1960s).

The problem is also not, as one paper characterized Obama’s position on his minister, that Wright is stuck in a “time warp,” in a period defined by racial division.

No, the problem is that Wright’s opinions are well within the mainstream of those of black America. As public opinion researchers know, the problem is that despite all the oratory about racial unity and transcending race, this country remains deeply racially divided, especially in the realm of politics.

Most white people and the mainstream media tend to be horrified (in a titillating voyeuristic type of way), when they ‘look under the hood’ to see what’s really on blacks folks’ mind. Two thirds of whites believe that blacks have achieved or will soon achieve racial equality. Nearly eighty percent of blacks believe that racial justice for blacks will not be achieved either in their lifetime or at all in the U.S. In March 2003, when polls were showing strong support among whites for an invasion of Iraq, a large majority of blacks were shown to oppose military intervention.”

Read the whole article here.

UPDATE: You can also read Michael Dawson’s post-Obama speech reaction here.

I actually have a similar attitude towards the preaching of Jeremiah Wright as I do towards that of Minister Farrakhan. I am tremendously excited by what I often hear in their preaching of the true Prophetic tradition, that which is exemplified most clearly in the Qur’an and the Old Testament. It is precisely this element that is most often missing from white Christians, where the liberals and progressives often lack the deep faith which is intrinsic to the Prophetic view of reality and where conservatives believe in what Cornel West calls “Constantinian Christianity” which is a Christianity wedded to embracing and justifying empire and the ruling elites. Of course, because I am a Muslim I have some theological issues with the specifically Christian teachings of Mr. Wright and I take those issues seriously. Also, I think that one sees in Rev. Wright and Minister Farrakhan, at least on occasion another phenomenon which I think can be rightly condemned and which is sometimes not separated out from the true Prophetic teachings that they may also express. That phenomenon is the over simplification of complex realities into charges that are false. Rather than a complex analysis of how the “war on drugs” and the “war on crime” are designed to serve the interests of certain groups and with the knowledge that immense harm will result to other groups, sometimes in the midst of giving a speech such analysis is truncated to specific claims which may be not entirely verifiable or which condemn an entire group as a whole. This is closely related to the type of conspiracy thinking which seeks succinct explanations for complex phenomenon. Many times the fact of a conspiracy is actually real but because it is complex and impossible to understand in all its aspects, it gets boiled down to a simpler conspiracy which distorts reality and may scapegoat certain groups which are vulnerable themselves.

The real point of going through all this is to state that despite the specific aspects which I refer to above which sometimes make me uncomfortable, I would be a million times more uncomfortable listening to a sermon of Constantinian Christianity or its Islamic equivalents. (I hope to outline what I see as being Prophetic Islam and what I see as the equivalent of Constantinian Islam in a future post, inshAllaah). Which is why, in America today, I am most comfortable among Blackamericans and Muslims.

The challenge for Obama is to try to condemn the specifically problematic aspects of Rev. Wright’s sermons without condemning the “Prophetic Christianity” aspects. What most people are actually calling for condemning and what he would probably have to do to become President is to condemn the “Prophetic Christianity” aspects as a whole. But then he would be losing his soul.

Allaah knows best.

5 Responses to “Michael C. Dawson: Is Obama Wrong About Wright?”

  1. abdul-halim Says:

    I just wanted say: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. For perhaps a more “Islamic” spin on the issue you could also look at Zaid Shakir on MLK and Obama. The US still isn’t ready for a real “prophetic” voice. That’s why they shot King. And that’s why (according to Imam Zaid) if King were alive today, he wouldn’t be elected President. Obama is somewhat limited in what he can say or do and still get elected.

  2. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee Says:

    As salaamu ‘alaykum Abdul-Halim.

    Jazzak Allaahu Khayr for your comments. Which is why I think that people who want to represent a real “prophetic voice” (which I hope includes all Muslims) should basically stay aloof from electoral politics, because participating in those politics leads to distortion and compromise of the prophetic message. I do think there are countless ways to be involved in the community and to help people and even to be involved with “political” issues without getting involved in the electoral process.

    I realize not many people agree with me though. Most people have been convinced that to truly participate in American society starts with, if it doesn’t end with, being involved in the politics game. I think that’s exactly what “They” want you to believe, because they want you to compromise and sell out the Prophetic agenda in return for your own piece of the pie.

    Of course King wouldn’t be president. If King or Malcolm hadn’t been killed when they were (and of course Allaah (swt) is in charge of all affairs) they would have obviously been killed at another time. If Allaah (swt) somehow ordained either of them to live this long, most likely they would be in prison (where Imam Jamil Al-Amin is).

    And truly Allaah is the Best of Planners and the Disposer of All Affairs.

    Allaah knows best.

  3. Brendan Says:

    I think that people who want to represent a real “prophetic voice” (which I hope includes all Muslims) should basically stay aloof from electoral politics, because participating in those politics leads to distortion and compromise of the prophetic message.

    I think you’re right about the inevitable compromises of politics, and I’d be willing to bet that some of these lead to distortion of religious (and other) values. Certainly, we have no shortage of Bible-thumping officeholders in the US, who commit sins at least daily, to back up this hypothesis.

    On the other hand, I think it is unhealthy for a citizen to arbitrarily cut him- or herself from any aspect of society by fiat. It is more healthy for everyone in a democratic society at least to keep open the possibility of being an elected official. Suppose, for example, that you were such a good community leader that you could run for, say, City Council, unopposed? Wouldn’t that be a useful opportunity to make your concerns, and those of your community, better heard?

    I’d also argue that it’s well nigh impossible to do almost any job in a society that doesn’t involve some compromises at some point, whether with one’s religious beliefs or otherwise. We do the best we can in an imperfect world, and that’s all anybody can ask.

    Also, how does your thinking extend to, say, Iran? Do you think that the ayatollahs and other clerical figures are wrong to be an important part of running that country?

    On an unrelated note, did you notice our big moment?

  4. abunooralirlandee Says:

    As to “our moment”

    I’ve know seen it, pretty cool.

    I’m glad Mr. Kaus was there to remind us that we’re still nobody important in his world, though.

  5. abunooralirlandee Says:

    As to the larger point in your post, the more sensible part of me would argue that there should be people doing one role and others filling the other role. Maybe there are certain people who play the role of politician and they have to make the compromises and they have to sell their souls but at the end of the day they serve a function for good and well, someone has to do it. I would hate to be one of those people, though, and I wouldn’t advise it for anyone I cared about. Now, if all good people vacate the realm of practical everyday politics, won’t that hurt the society as a whole? Perhaps, but it’s just so distasteful to me. I do think that too many intelligent, talented thoughtful people spend too much time thinking and acting like politicians. I realize that the horserace obsessed political junkie community is small but I do think it dispropotionately drains a lot of intellectual energy in ways which are ultimately not the best way such people could spend their time. In a way it goes back to the dustup about MLK and LBJ. One can argue about who actually should get more credit for whatever was accomplished with the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act — but I don’t think many would argue about who is more admirable.

    You are right to suggest that it is possible that extremely local or small scale politics might tend away from the broad corrupting influences I describe above…I have to admit I haven’t been involved in the nitty gritty of that enough to say one way or the other.

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