Do white right-wing preachers have it easier than black left-wing preachers? Is there a double standard?
The political explosion around the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was inevitable, given Wright’s personal closeness to Barack Obama and the outrageous rubbish the pastor has offered about AIDS, Sept. 11 and Louis Farrakhan. [complete article]
Editor’s Comment — No doubt E.J. Dionne felt like he’d be on wonderfully safe territory in calling for even-handed denunciations of white right-wing preachers and black left-wing preachers.
Following in the footsteps of editorials in the Washington Post and the New York Times, Dionne sees no need to delve into the substance of Wright’s “outrageous rubbish.” After all, it was Obama himself who provided the talking points. Everyone else has happily taken cover under the insinuation that Wright’s statements were so far beyond the pale that they did not merit discussion. The effect has been that the misrepresentation of what he said has largely gone unchallenged.
These were Obama’s talking points for the media:
…when [Wright] states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS, when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century, when he equates the United States wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses. They offend me. They rightly offend all Americans. And they should be denounced.
Yet amidst all the outrage and the denunciation in the current flareup of The Wright Issue, if most Americans were asked if they knew exactly what Wright had said this time around, they would mostly have nothing to say. This time we didn’t get, nor apparently need, any sound bites to be shocked by – we could be shocked by simply being told that he had uttered “outrageous rubbish,” no hard quotes required.
But let’s consider more carefully what so many others have blithely dismissed. Let’s look at the three specific outrages and see whether they fit the level of denunciation they’ve provoked.
1. The US government and AIDS:
… based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything.
In expressing his suspicions about what the US government is capable of doing, Wright cited Medical Apartheid, by Harriet A Washington, published in January, 2007. This is the opening passage from the Washington Post‘s review:
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study remains an ignominious milestone in the intertwined histories of race and medical science in U.S. society. Initiated in 1932, this tragic 40-year long public health project resulted in almost 400 impoverished and unwitting African American men in Macon County, Ala., being left untreated for syphilis. Researchers wanted to observe how the disease progressed differently in blacks in its late stages and to examine its devastating effects with postmortem dissection.
A fresh account of the Tuskegee study, including new information about the internal politics of the panel charged by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare with investigating it in 1972, lies at the center of Harriet A. Washington’s courageous and poignant book. The balance of Medical Apartheid reveals, with arresting detail, that this scandal was neither the first chapter nor the last in the exploitation of black subjects in U.S. medical research. Tuskegee was, in the author’s words, “the longest and most infamous — but hardly the worst — experimental abuse of African Americans. It has been eclipsed in both numbers and egregiousness by other abusive medical studies.”
Although medical experimentation with human subjects has historically involved vulnerable groups, including children, the poor and the institutionalized, Washington enumerates how black Americans have disproportionately borne the burden of the most invasive, inhumane and perilous medical investigations, from the era of slavery to the present day.
Among those outraged by Wright’s suggestion that the US government could have been involved in the creation of HIV, I imagine few could counter his suspicions with any factual information about the real origins of the virus. How many of the pundits could even explain what a retrovirus is, let alone where this particular one came from? Can E.J. Dionne say when and where the first natural reservoir of HIV was discovered?
Wright was rebuked as though he were a flat-earther among enlightened Copernicans.
Whether Wright’s suspicions are baseless, in the light of Tuskegee, the fact that he has them should be neither shocking nor terribly surprising.
2. Wright’s views on Louis Farrakhan:
… how many other African-Americans or European-Americans do you know that can get one million people together on the mall? He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century. That’s what I think about him.
I’ve said, as I said on Bill Moyers, when Louis Farrakhan speaks, it’s like E.F. Hutton speaks, all black America listens. Whether they agree with him or not, they listen.
Now, I am not going to put down Louis Farrakhan anymore than Mandela would put down Fidel Castro. Do you remember that Ted Koppel show, where Ted wanted Mandela to put down Castro because Castro was our enemy? And he said, “You don’t tell me who my enemies are. You don’t tell me who my friends are.”
Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery.
Suppose Wright made the observation: William F. Buckley was one the most important voices in America. Would anyone have said that he was praising Buckley? Or would they have merely recognized the obvious: that he was drawing attention to the extent of Buckley’s influence?
Wright’s view of Farrakhan is really a response to those who want to minimize Farrakhan’s influence by treating him as a marginal figure. The marginalization of Farrakhan is proscription dressed up as description.
Is Wright correct in saying that when Farrakhan speaks, black Americans — whether they agree with him or not — listen?
As someone who is not a black American, I don’t know, but neither I imagine do most of those white pundits who repeated the claim that Wright had “praised” Farrakhan.
3. Terrorism and the US:
You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you.
For seven years, public discourse in America has conspired to sustain the notion that the term “terrorism” has an unambiguous and objective meaning. Although in theory it is possible that we could all agree on what terrorism is, in practice it has become the prerogative of the US government to determine what are admissible and inadmissible applications of the term. “Terrorism” has become a proprietary brand and the US government holds the copyright.
On April 30, 2008, five Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from a U.S. naval vessel off the Horn of Africa, aimed the town of Dusa Marreb in central Somalia. According to the Washington Post, the strike “leveled a house belonging to the reclusive leader, Aden Hashi Ayro, who was inside at the time with at least one of his top commanders, according to his followers.” Aryo is accused of having ties to al Qaeda. A witness said he counted 16 bodies around the crater where the missile(s) had exploded. On February 29, 2008, the US government granted itself legal authority to blow up Aryo and those in his vicinity by designating the group to which they belong, Al-Shabaab, as a terrorist organization.
Although the Pentagon cannot confirm the number or identities of all the people killed in the missile strike, anyone who would have the audacity to refer to a military action such as this, as an act of “terrorism” is sure to be denounced. Among respectable commentators, the act itself is just as sure to receive little if any comment. Somalia is a lawless state; America’s role in contributing to that lawlessness is a subject supposedly of no interest or concern to the American people.