Jeremiah Wright’s apparent undermining of Barack Obama’s campaign gets to the heart of an ongoing battle that has been heating up in the Black community since Obama first announced his candidacy. By entertaining the mainstream media that has been quick to pull down Obama, Wright is displaying a dangerous disregard for Obama’s historic candidacy. But he’s not doing it on purpose. Jeremiah Wright, like others of his generation, is only treating Barack Obama’s candidacy like the youthful pipe dream that he always thought it was.
Barack Obama winning the presidency cracks the foundation of Wright’s lived experience. For his generation, white racism is inseparable from the very idea of America. According to their line of thinking, White racism will never allow a Black man to be president. Ever. (Did I say, Ever?) For them, this is fact, not conjecture.
This belief more than anything else is central to what others interpret as Wright’s media carelessness but what I see as the ultimate display of the cynicism of Wright’s generation.
We saw a similar cynicism in the unwillingness of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton–themselves, former presidential candidates–to take Obama’s candidacy seriously.
We saw it more recently in civil rights icon, John Lewis’ flip-flopping. The founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus supported Hillary early on but was forced by his district’s overwhelming support of Barack Obama to cast his superdelegate ballot with the ‘hope’ candidate.
When Obama said, in his second-too-many press conference on Wright, that “the person I saw yesterday is not the person I met twenty years ago,” he was expressing frustration but also a recognition that Wright’s generation isn’t equipped to confront the difficulties of race in our time. Wright’s vision only allows him to see what America was and not what America could be. Barack Obama has outgrown him.
Now, those who look at Wright’s media blitz and ponder, “Why now?” are missing the point. It’s not that Wright fails to recognize that he’s hurting Barack’s campaign. Rather, it’s a question of how he’s approaching the situation. To Wright, if a Black presidency is unfathomable, how can he hurt it? White racism decided long ago–regardless of what Wright does–that Obama’s inability to win is a foregone conclusion.
As legions of young supporters have shown throughout this election season however, that’s crap. And it’s not that younger generation politicians like Barack Obama, Newark mayor Corey Booker and their young multi-racial supporters have forgotten that white racism is alive and well. What’s unique to their generation’s racial worldview is that they believe they can defeat it.
Their faith in what America could be, despite the naysayers groaning behind the Wright whirlwind, is what will save Barack Obama’s campaign.
Bakari Kitwana is author of Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop, and Artist-in-Residence at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago.