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what I’d say to Rev. Wright

Posted by pocochina on March 14, 2008

Dear Reverend Wright,

I’m pretty sure you’ll never read this, since, you know, I’m part of the US of KKK A and am a spoiled woman who has been in power since the beginning of time.  (I’m part Italian, and you really made me think about that part of my heritage.  For all I know, my great-great-great-great grandma killed Jesus HER OWN SELF.)  But I’ve been hearing your sermons on the news, and they’re striking a lot of chords.  I’m not sure about the UCC, but since it’s well known as an accepting, liberal denomination, I’ll assume I can, you know, talk to you.

Snark aside, I want to point out the politics we agree on.  There’s actually a pretty long list, and it’s based on just one or two clips I’ve seen of your sermons.

1.  Racism is real in America.  I define “racism” as power + racial prejudice.  So your anger at me, for being who I am, is not actually racism in this definition of the word, because as far as race relations in this country go, an unfair world makes my life easier in that regard than yours.  I’m not denying that.  I don’t think reverse racism exists – it can’t, racism in the sense of power can only be from a privileged group towards less-privileged groups.  I am angry, too.  I wish I could scrub my very being of it, but I know that I can’t.  It’s not my place to pass any sort of judgment on someone else’s experience, and I can only imagine how I’d feel.  So I don’t expect you to like me, I have no right to expect that of anyone, but I hope you know that I am an ally in the fight against bias in this country.

2.  The drug war is racist and wrong.  Mandatory minimums are racist and wrong.  This public policy is immoral, it is unconstitutional – and yes, for the sake of argument with any sociopathic anti-tax conservatives who show up here, it is a waste of public resources.  These are laws designed with the sole purpose of permitting the government to do unspeakable damage to people who are Other.  A heartbreaking percentage of Americans are in jail, and men and women of color are a wildly disproportionate number of those people. I do not believe for a second that African-Americans, or people of Hispanic descent, commit more crimes than white people do, I think that white people are far more likely to get away with crimes.

3.  No country, including Israel, should have retained relations with South Africa during apartheid.

4.  You have every right to speak out for your candidate.  I don’t know if you’ve spoken about the IRS investigation of your church, but I believe it is racist and politically motivated.  If the IRS were serious about cracking down on politically motivated speech in church, then a whole lot of white megachurches would be in the soup, as would every Catholic church in America.*  Yes, you’ve probably crossed the line between faith and politics, but so have they, and I believe an unjust application of the law is as wrong, if not more so, than lawlessness.

I am on your side with these things, and probably lots more, and I make that statement with the full awareness of the fact that I have no idea what it is like to be an African-American today.

But I refuse to give up my right to disagree with you.

1.  Just as racism is real, so is sexism.  Barack Obama has had to work twice as hard to be where he is, at least twice as hard, there is a burden on his shoulders that most of us will never know.  But the same is true of Hillary Clinton.  She is not “hating” on Senator Obama, and neither are the vast majority of her supporters.  Just as I’ll never know what it’s like to be African-American, you will never know what it is like to be a woman.  It means that I do not know or care the race of a man when his footsteps fall too close behind me, and I cannot care whether it is in English, Spanish, or any of the other languages of my hometown when I hear that menacing “hey, baby” in my left ear.  I’ll let Riverdaughter and Jeff take it from there, because they’ve covered this disagreement with you, too, and I’m not here to re-invent the wheel.

2.  The American goverment has, indeed, been complicit in the drug problem in this country.  But I have a problem with your implication that the government manufactures drugs and gives them out to black people – because white people use drugs too.  In fact, I don’t have a source (because let’s face it, this study would be tough to do) but I’ll bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets that white Americans use drugs as much if not more than people of color, because white privilege gives people the idea that they’ll get away with it.

3.  I support Israel’s right to self determination, and I also support justice for the Palestinian people.  Nobody has the answers, ’cause if they did I sure wouldn’t need to be writing this letter, but anti-Semitism is not the answer.  Anti-Semitism is just another kind of bigotry.  Yes, it manifests differently, yes, it is experienced differently, but that does not make it right.  (And I will point out that Israel did eventually sever relations with South Africa in order to pressure its government to end apartheid.  Doesn’t make everything okay, of course not, but we can condemn wrongdoing and support correct actions even by the same actor.)  It’s important that we recognize that the state of Israel has also achieved health care for its citizens, it has a free press, it recognizes gay rights, it has civil liberties which allow its own citizens to criticize its actions.  Israel is the only country in the Middle East rated as “free” by Freedom House.  I am not in any way minimizing the suffering of the Palestinian people, and Israel must face the sins of its past and present.  But in this regard, Israel is the same as any society that is or has ever been.

4.  This doesn’t have to do with Barack Obama (like #4 above does), so we’re going to have to break parallelism here because I can’t let this one go.  Although not a day goes by that I am angered and frustrated and hurt by the sins of our country, I do not say “God damn America.”  I respect your right to do so, and I cherish the idea that dissent is indeed patriotic – because this is America – but I want to here use my equal freedom to disagree.

I’m going to sign off with a quote from an Australian woman of color, Lilla Watson.  “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Your liberation is bound up in mine, Reverend.  Our lives and experiences are different, but we’re both here.  So let us respect each other, and let us work together.



*Not to single out individual Catholics, among whom there are people of conscience as well as those sadly lacking in that area, like in every other religious practice (and abstinence from such) but because of Catholic doctrine which makes Pope Benedict’s heavily political agenda canon law.


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