March 19, 2008


Ready for Obama ... (JOHN McWHORTER, March 19, 2008, NY Sun)

I have written that it is part of the essence of the modern black American identity to be a victor in private but a victim in public. There is a sense that while initiative is important, blacks still have to display more of it than whites, and that this isn't fair.

Someone who feels this way can have done well and even be comfortable around white people. However, that sense that black America still labors under a general injustice can express itself in taking a certain pleasure in listening to someone like Jeremiah Wright.

They hear a stirring articulation of rebellion, listenable according to a sense that fealty to one's race entails at least a gestural nod to sticking a finger in whitey's eye now and then. The tone, the music of the statements is more vivid than the content. Sermons like this are Sunday morning's version of gangsta rap.

This, then, is why, as Mr. Obama said in his speech yesterday, he could no more disown Reverend Wright than disown black people in general. So, why did the Obamas not find another church after finding out that Reverend Wright had some tart things to say about "the Man"? Because they weren't listening to them as logic, but as atmosphere.

To the Obamas, attending to such rhetoric may even have felt like a gesture of solidarity with less fortunate blacks. Commentators reading this as evidence that the Obamas are conniving to get at the reigns of a nation they loathe are missing that in black America, to an extent that is easy to miss if one has not lived it, race trumps class.

This confusion of gesture with conviction also has thrown people on Michelle Obama's comment about not having been proud of her country until her husband's embrace by the public. Not too long ago everybody went wild over David Brooks's "Bobos in Paradise," about affluent couples managing their mutual funds and fighting to get their kids into top schools while indulging in anti-Establishment statements in decor, dress style, and political opinions.

Spot-on anthropology, all agreed. Then why the sputtering over an affluent, educated woman indicting America as a land of injustice?

It is certainly a fair point that the injustice spluttering sounds just as stupid coming from John Edwards and Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat decrying how tough things are in the most just, most affluent society in human history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 19, 2008 8:23 AM

I've read other pieces by McWhorter including his book "Losing the Race" and this article surprises me. He's opposed to blacks playing the victim buy excuses a preacher that preaches it to thousands?

Posted by: Patrick H at March 19, 2008 11:14 AM

McWhorter was on CSPAN a couple of weeks ago. He's supporting Obama all the way even if it requires him to contradict much of his own work.

Posted by: andrew at March 19, 2008 12:15 PM