Had Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, just said the following
words last week in his speech on race in America, his problems with his
former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, would probably now be over:
have all heard the racist and anti-American outbursts of my pastor, the
Rev. Wright. They are all inexcusable. His speeches have forced me to
re-examine my long association with Trinity United Church of Christ.
And so it is with regret that I must now leave that church.
had heard similar extremist language of Rev. Wright in the past, and
now apologize that I did not earlier end my attendance and
contributions. Had I long ago expressed my strong objections to Rev.
Wright's views, such opposition might have suggested to him a more
"But any good that now might come by remaining
steadfast to Rev. Wright in consideration of our long past friendship
is outweighed by the damage that would accrue from the sanction of his
extremism that my continued attendance at his church might convey.
have loyalty aplenty, but it is to the truth, my country and universal
tolerance, not to any one friend, however long and close our
"Allegations that America helped to cause — and
thus deserved — Sept. 11 and that the U.S. government engineered the
AIDS epidemic, as well as the pastor's slurs against 'white people' and
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are not reflective of the views of
mainstream black America and they have no place in any house of
"It would be easy to claim that Rev.
Wright's biases are no different from those voiced on occasion by our
own family members, our pastors or political leaders in the public eye
and therefore not so injurious to America. That defense of false
equivalence, that 'others do it all the time,' is a common one offered
by those who offend the public sensibility.
"It would also be
easy to excuse my pastor's outbursts by citing the long, tragic history
of the African-American experience. After all, every extremist outburst
always has a particular and perhaps mitigating context.
"And finally it would be easy to suggest that the special landscape
of the black church allows a sort of venting and role-playing unlike
other common venues in America. It has often been a refuge from white
oppression and a place to make sense of the tragic history of race
relations that plague us still. That and the good that Rev. Wright has
done could also be an extenuating circumstance.
Pastor Wright nor I — a candidate for the presidency of the United
States — can afford to find refuge in any of these relativist
explanations. To do so would not merely exempt the statements of Rev.
Wright from proper censure, but also would have the effect of offering
endorsement to them. Here is why we must not and will not do that:
today's America has evolved into a multiracial society unlike anytime
in our long history. Each of America's groups has unique grievances,
based on their own past ordeals.
"So now more than ever in
American history, there is need to establish a universal, absolute
standard of public discourse in which no individual or group claims
extenuating circumstances to demonize other Americans. Otherwise, the
bar will have been lowered — and Rev. Wright will be followed by
merchants of hate of every sort, each citing his allowance as a pass
for his own hate speech.
"Second, we are in our fifth decade
since the landmark civil-rights legislation of the 1960s. And while the
African-American community has made enormous strides, it still has not
achieved parity with either the white majority or some other
minorities. The reasons are complex, but they cannot be simply reduced
to white racism or the purported pathologies of the United States as
Rev. Wright supposed. We African-Americans must be as vigilant in
demanding an equality of opportunity for all Americans as in ensuring
that crime, illegitimacy, drug use and the failure to finish high
school are no higher in the African-American community than in others.
Americans were appalled, as was I, at my minister cursing the United
States. But we must always appreciate the unique nature of America, an
experiment that unites a multiplicity of religions, races and
ethnicities, and endures only to the degree we all adhere to a common
set of values. We must never think that because the United States has
sometimes not been perfect, it is not good.
"The hard work of
creating and improving the United States required centuries; the easier
task of tearing apart America can be done in a generation. But neither
you nor I can or will allow that to happen. Thank you, and God bless
the United States."