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Where Wright Went Wrong

May 5, 2008

Going beyond the obvious (AIDS conspiracy, Farrakhan…)
I have no problem with Reverend Wright’s argument that “difference does not mean deficient” nor his cogent analysis of African and European rhythm and music patterns.
But when Wright suggests that Black children need to learn differently from Whites, he brings us periously close to a reversal of Brown v. Board of Education.
Similarly, I praise Latinos (and other ethnic groups) who maintain the language and traditions of their native countries/culture but condemn those who do not want to learn English or American — and yes, Western — ways as well. We can have diversity AND a melting pot. We can be African and American, Latino and American, Jewish and American, Italian and American. But if you don’t want to be American at all, if you don’t want to learn English and traditional American ways of learning and teaching and speaking, well then, you don’t really belong here. Yes, you can try to modify the standards. Yes, you can and should advocate a “mosaic” as much as a “melting pot.” But we must have ties that bind us, even if those ties are the English language and a bunch of dead white Christian men who happened to found our country.
No one can dispute America’s long history of racism and oppression, but to teach Blacks that there is no hope, that all of America is a white cesspool seeking to destroy them, there is no hope for African-American self-improvement. The same is true with some Jews who have a Holocaust mentality.
One hundred years ago, W.E.B. DuBois spoke in “The Souls of Black Folk” of a “talented tenth,” that perhaps only 1/10 of Blacks could succeed in America given its systemic racism, but that 10% should be able to achieve despite all odds. Similarly, many Jewish and Asian families teach their children that despite the fact that antisemitism and racism continue to exist, they must still strive to learn and do better, even if they have a handicap. These cultures focus on education and share DuBois’ vision of retaliation through education. “We’ll show them!” is the rallying cry, rather than “We’ll fight them” or “We have no hope because they’re all evil.”
Times are substantially easier now for African Americans than they were a hundred years ago when Du Bois wrote his book. No, systemic racism isn’t gone. Yes, full equality remains decades, if not a century away.
Still, isn’t it time to up Du Bois’ numbers? How about a talented 70% or 80%? I suspect those numbers of African-Americans could succeed in America, despite the systemic racism that endures, if the taunt was only “We’ll show them despite all odds” rather than “They’re in a conspiracy to destroy us. Screw them!”
Wright’s and Obama’s visions collide. I trust Obama shares my vision, not Wright’s.
Obama had to go to Wright’s church to find the people that needed to be lifted up. But let us hope and pray that Wright’s vision belongs to the past while Obama’s belongs to the future.

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