MUST READ: OBAMA IS NO KING
So far, Mr. Obama has been content to let black people have their vision of him while white people hold to a separate, segregated reality. He is a politician and, unlike King, his goal is winning votes, not changing hearts. Still, it is a key break from the King tradition to sell different messages to different audiences based on race, and to fail to challenge racial divisions in the nation.
Mr. Obama's major speech on race last month was forced from him only after a political crisis erupted: It became widely known that he'd sat for 20 years in the pews of a church where Rev. Jeremiah Wright lashed out at white people. The minister cursed America as worthy of damnation, made lewd suggestions about the nature of President Clinton's relationship with black voters, and embraced the paranoid idea that the white government was spreading AIDS among black people.
Here is where the racial tension at the heart of Mr. Obama's campaign flared into view. He either shared these beliefs or, lacking good judgment, decided it politically expedient for an ambitious young black politician trying to prove his solidarity with all things black, to be associated with these rants. His judgment and leadership on the critical issue of race is in question.
While speaking to black people, King never condescended to offer Rev. Wright-style diatribes or conspiracy theories. He did not paint black people as victims. To the contrary, he spoke about black people as American patriots who believed in the democratic ideals of the country, in nonviolence and the Judeo-Christian ethic, even as they overcame slavery, discrimination and disadvantage. King challenged white America to do the same, to live up to their ideals and create racial unity. He challenged white Christians, asking them how they could treat their fellow black Christians as anything but brothers in Christ.
When King spoke about the racist past, he gloried in black people beating the odds to win equal rights by arming"ourselves with dignity and self-respect." He expressed regret that some black leaders reveled in grievance, malice and self-indulgent anger in place of a focus on strong families, education and love of God. Even in the days before Congress passed civil rights laws, King spoke to black Americans about the pride that comes from"assuming primary responsibility" for achieving"first class citizenship."
He ends thus:
But when Barack Obama, arguably the best of this generation of black or white leaders, finds it easy to sit in Rev. Wright's pews and nod along with wacky and bitterly divisive racial rhetoric, it does call his judgment into question. And it reveals a continuing crisis in racial leadership.
What would Jesus do? There is no question he would have left that church.
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