I recently had a chance to hear a sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright at Bethel AME Church in Los Angeles. His selection was titled "Looks Can Be Deceiving", and just as he's done throughout his ministry, Rev. Wright laid the foundation for his message on the firm soil of African culture. He spoke specifically of our ancient storytelling tradition, focusing on the way African narratives taught lessons that often involved using our minds to prevail over impossible odds.
As I listened to his inspiring message, I couldn't help but think about our new president, Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., and the barriers and obstacles he overcame to bring his new administration into being. Because regardless of what he accomplishes in office, President Obama's victory will go down in history as a perfect example of one of our own using his mind to conquer the seemingly impossible.
As we look back on this historic event in years to come, we will remember the opponents so brilliantly set aside during the election process. We will laugh at memories of the winking lady maverick and we'll pity the thought of a plumber's assistant who spoke for the materially rich while being so poor that he couldn't pay his taxes. But beyond those side shows, in more serious moments of reflection, we will think about Rev. Wright.
The sad reality is that in most cases when we think of him, we will do so in a distorted and dysfunctional media contrived context that ignores his brilliance and forty-plus year legacy of service and struggle for this nation and the African American community. Most of us will remember him as the man who almost single-handedly cost President Obama the election. After all, that's the conversation we were having in most corners of our community before, and particularly after, his presentation at the National Press Club.
That same conversation was taking place in pro-Obama media circles during that time, and I can't help but wonder if we allowed the media to influence our thoughts in that regard. Perhaps our ancient spiritual insight has been compromised by centuries of oppression and deception combined with distorted media reports and sound bites taken out of context. Most of us would argue against that point, but who can say for sure?
I can proudly say that I never agreed with the media or the majority of my people on this point. In the applied spirit of our ancestor's teachings and Rev. Wright's message about how "looks can be deceiving," I am on record for having shared a different perspective in the days after he left the Press Club podium.
I argued then that Rev. Wright's words and deeds served Barack's best interests whether he were to win or lose the upcoming election. Most people didn't immediately appreciate my analysis, so I had the pleasure of explaining myself several times.
At the outset I took the firm position that Rev. Wright was obligated to speak his own truth without primary regard for its impact on the election or his ongoing relationship with the most prominent of those whom he has "brought… to God". I argued that if Team Obama couldn't prevail in the wake of Rev. Wright's spoken truth, they would never survive the varied truths and lies they were guaranteed to face during a potential Obama administration.
Then, too, since all objective analyses agreed that Barack was the most qualified candidate by far, I added that if he lost the election, it would mean one of two things. Most obviously, it would mean that America still wasn't ready for an African American president of even the highest caliber. And by no fault of his own, the media positioned Rev. Wright to become a scapegoat to mask that reality should it come to pass. In spite of the fact that it did not, Rev. Wright's involuntary role in the campaign did a lot to help Barack measure the racial attitude of the nation.
On the other hand, and on a deeper spiritual level, an Obama loss could have been interpreted to mean that fate was determined to prevent a Black man from taking leadership responsibility for a country in crisis and near collapse after being horribly steered off course for centuries by White male leaders of a different moral fiber.
But when this episode was hot in the news, our people had little tolerance for a discussion around the possibility that Obama might lose, so I shared that perspective in very limited company. There was much more interest – and ultimately positive response – to my position relating to an eventual Obama victory.
So I assured anyone who would listen to me that Rev. Wright's words and deeds would help Obama toward ultimate victory because they "gave (him) the scissors that he needed to cut the cord with Rev. Wright," thereby releasing our new president from the only political liability that had any potential to derail his campaign.