Barack Obama is black. He had a white mother and was raised by his white grandparents, and the white world continually reached out to include him, but he was more comfortable in the black world. It’s where he needed to be to feel safe. It took him a while to figure his identity out, that’s what his first book is about, finding comfort in his African skin. In his 20s, Obama fell in love with a white woman but their relationship came apart partly because he took her to a black play in New York, full of anger. The girl said, I can’t be black, I can’t go into this culture. Even though he could go to hers– could canoe around her family’s pretty lake with her.
Obama ended up marrying a black woman with a defiantly anti-assimilationist view of black culture. The man who married them, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was a leading pastor at the hip professional black church on the south side of Chicago.
Obama ran for the state Senate from that district, and think of it, just 3-1/2 years ago, that’s all Obama was, a state senator from a black district, who nobody knew about.
You can’t tear Obama completely from that scene. It’s a genuine American scene, as genuine as American synagogues (which send money to racist settlements on the West Bank), or mainstream religious organizations Joe Lieberman belonged to (which ban intermarriage), or Pastor Hagee’s evangelical community (where they treat gays like scurvy). As genuine as Jack Kennedy’s (bootlegging) Irish father.
Is Obama to be blamed for the alienation of American blacks? Tonight Chris Matthews says that Rev Wright is Obama’s "Iraq." But the O.J. verdict should have taught us that there are two realities here. That is what Obama’s race speech was about, blacks had real reason to be angry and now is our time to try and talk about it and deal, or push it off another election. The courage of that speech was Obama didn’t try to cover up Rev. Wright, he spoke of Wright again and again. He trusted us to have the intelligence and depth to hear him. Young people did, they’re not afraid. They have more black friends than older white people do. Maybe they didn’t tell racist jokes, like I did when I was young. Maybe when they hear Rev. Wright saying that AIDS was a conspiracy against black people they understand that angry black people say that kind of stuff, maybe because doctors not long ago injected blacks with syphilis to see how the disease worked, and they don’t hold Obama responsible for every wild statement in his community.
Let’s not punish Obama for the color of his skin. He has the ability to transcend these differences. Can we go there with him?