National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: The Lynching of Jeremiah Wright

Tuesday was the saddest day in America in a very long time. The nation’s core values were not attacked by some foreign enemy, but from within. Virulent racism suddenly reared its ugly head, unbridled and unbound, roaring through the nation’s most powerful media institutions to rip the Rev. Jeremiah Wright asunder and to compel his brother Afro-American, a man who would be president, into a public spectacle of compliance and subservient denial. It was a lynching.

The attacks on Wright’s remarks made at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Monday were racist on their face because they tore his comments out of context and assailed them for their tone and language. But the tone and word choices were distinctively of an Afro-American cultural mode, the mode of the Black Church preacher who speaks in the tone of defiance to embolden his downtrodden people and offer them hope through strength.

Therefore, the attacks on Wright were attacks on Afro-American culture, and thus were prima facie racist, much as Rev. Wright correctly charged that the earlier political exploitation of sound bites from some of his sermons were taken out of context as attacks, ultimately, on the Black Church.

The Washington Post went ballistic, much as it used to do against former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who was in the audience to hear Wright Monday. The Post had no fewer than three news articles, an editorial and three commentaries on Wright Tuesday, all expressing a menacing revulsion for what he allegedly said. TV commentators felt the license to be even more angry. CNN’s foolish Jack Cafferty rained personal insults down on Wright that would have cost any commentator his job had there been any restraints on racist commentaries that day. But there weren’t.

I was present to hear the Rev. Wright’s now-universally-reviled remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Monday. I was naïve enough to walk away from his speech thinking he’d laid his earlier sound bite problems to rest, because he was downright eloquent, in an Afro-American preacher way, laying out the core principles of what he called Black Liberation Theology. Those core principles, as he articulated them, are liberation, transformation and reconciliation, and are all three inclusive of all races, religions and social strata. His were not words of hate, but reconciliation.

Following the meeting I told a circle of friends from different religious and church traditions that I thought had they heard Wright speak, there would not be a single thing he said that they’d disagree with.

To demonstrate not only what Wright really said, but to counter it against the hysteria generated by the major media, I wrote an account of his National Press Club speech accompanying this column in the Falls Church News-Press entitled, “Rev. Wright Counters Sound Bites With Theology Context.”

It is safe to say that the major media reacted, first of all, to Wright’s defiant tone and his unwillingness to be humble, bowed or apologetic. But defiance and standing tall under fire are at the heart of the Black Church’s preaching tradition.

Next, they reacted to terminology that they could pull out of context and say, “See there!” They ignored any of his nuances, his claims that he was quoting others when he was shown in earlier sound bites, including about September 11, the source of the HIV virus, and of the nature of his relationship to Louis Farrakhan. They did not acknowledge their own ignorance in attributing one claim against him that belonged against Jimmy Carter, instead.

When he said that it is the Bible, not him, that affirmed the notion of reaping what one has sewn, said in the context of terrorism, he was not saying anything different than do all opponents of the Iraq war, who argue that the U.S. invasion invited al Qaeda into Iraq to bring its terror against U.S. citizens. It’s the identical notion, but when it comes from someone who has already been branded controversial and incendiary, delivered in an Afro-American preacher tone, it becomes an outrage.

Who would argue that no one should ever say anything negative about the U.S. government? But when Rev. Wright did, in his own colorful way, it not only goes like a wild fire on YouTube, but could change the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

Americans, at least those who know better, should be deeply ashamed for the racist orgy Tuesday.