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strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you

have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They

weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they

expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as

endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with

America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of

stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of

radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time

when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set

of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care

crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or

Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be

those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with

Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess

that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in

an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ

conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I

would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago

is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our

obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who

served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest

universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that

serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless,

ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries,

and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at

Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying

the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something

else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the

stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and

Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of

survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was

our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a

vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials

and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling

our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need

to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we

could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the

country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare

mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s

services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing,

clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church

contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the

struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black

experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he

may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and

baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any

ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but

courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of

the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him

than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed

again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world,

but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and

who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I

can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this

episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a

crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her

recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be

making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America

– to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over

the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really

worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if

we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve

challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William

Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not

need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind

ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today

can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under

the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after

Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps

explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning

property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black

homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the

police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful

wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income

gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so

many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came

from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a

problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic

services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the

beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of

violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation

grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was

still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is

not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women

overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who

would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream,

there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or

another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those

young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or

languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who

did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental

ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation

and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years.

That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it

does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited

by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews.

The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s

sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life

occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it

distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own

complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the

alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply

wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of

misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and

middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their

race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s

handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many

times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor.

They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of

stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in

which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a

school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in

landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves

never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are

somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in

polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation.


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DESCRIZIONE APPUNTO

Dispensa per il corso di Storia degli Stati Uniti d'America del prof. Daniele Fiorentino. Trattasi del discorso pronunciato dall'allora senatore degli Stati Uniti Barack Obama a Philadelphia il 18 marzo del 2008, all'interno del quale egli affronta il tema della democrazia e dell'integrazione delle razze.


DETTAGLI
Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea magistrale in relazioni internazionali
SSD:
A.A.: 2011-2012

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher Atreyu di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Storia degli Stati Uniti d'America e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Roma Tre - Uniroma3 o del prof Fiorentino Daniele.

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