In Search of a More Perfect Union:
Reflections on the Words of Wright and Obama
By. Raimondo Graziano
~ Written sometime before the 2016 Presidential Election
Today, we face a number of issues throughout our country that threaten to deepen the ever growing divide. Eight years ago, then Senator Barack Obama was dealing with backlash from comments made by his pastor. This was in the midst of a heated presidential election, and the idea and soul of the country was in debate. The words of condemnation and anger at what can be referred to as “White America,” and the wrongs committed by our forefathers, representatives and fellow citizens reverberated through American living rooms and halls alike. The media conveniently played over and over a smaller sound bite of a larger speech made by Reverend Wright, who is unabashedly passionate about what he speaks of. He is speaking of how governments change, and how at many times in our history “governments change for the good, and for the bad.” He is speaking of a moral good, present in God – governments change, but God does not. Therefore, there is a justifiable ‘good’ and ‘wrong.’ What is attributed in this piece as the most offensive is when the pastor says “God damn America.” Now, taken out of context and propagated by the media to Americans who love their country without much understanding of why, they will be justly offended because they do not understand justifiable critique. Wright argues that because The United States has systematically oppressed African Americans, Native Americans, as well as the internment of Japanese, Italian and German Americans, there is no reason for God to bless America, because of the wrong done onto others by the Governments of our country. Since God does not change, his will is the will of the moral right. While governments change, for the good and for the worse.
The then Presidential Candidate Barack Obama attempted to handle the situation with prudence and poise. Of course, in hindsight, the incident did not prove to be a detriment to the campaign’s success. From looking at the media, who more often than not help to facilitate the rumors and fear mongering by choosing snippets and film that inaccurately portray the President, and Wright’s comments – they are, in some cases, taken out of context. This isn’t a left or right issue either, what we call soundbites, often inflammatory or controversial statements made by men and women in positions of public scrutiny, are taken out of the context of longer addresses, in the President’s case, and sermons, in the Reverend’s case. In regards to the major News Networks of our country, we hope for unbiased and objective information, however what we want and what we got are seldom one and the same. With this said, the way in which President Obama handled the situation is commendable – instead of ignoring or dismissing the real concerns of a sizable portion of the country, he gave a speech on racial tension, white privilege, resentment and African American anger towards a system that has systematically oppressed and disadvantaged them for years. He sought to explain and make clear remarks made by the Reverend. The President managed to accomplish a number of things with this address. The constitution is the document that unites our country under a government we know to be legitimate. It gives us the right to work, to move towards “a more perfect Union.” The founders of the country recognized that, over time, the needs, wants and trajectory of our nation were subject to change; thusly so, our guiding documents ought to be same. It will have to be amended and ratified for the changing times. The President understands that the document itself is not perfect, and that racial tensions in this country are not a thing of the past; and this perhaps is more important than ever today. The most glaring inequity in the original document that laid the groundwork for a progressing nation was that of the slavery provisions. Slavery at the inception of our country was still legal, still practiced and there was not much that was going to be done about it. He says that constitution was “stained by the original sin of slavery,” and he is right. Following that, the President contextualizes his own life and family upbringing, stressing the importance and place diversity has in our uniquely American culture and history. No nation on Earth has endeavored to fulfill the ideals we have sought to make a reality. Despite our division and partisanship, there has been no nation as diverse and as rich as this country – and the beliefs and hopes for our families and futures are stronger than what we believe to separate us. Diversity and multiculturalism is what it means to be an American. He then pivots to directly address the sermon of Reverend Wright. While the President condemns the words of Wright as “harsh, problematic, and divisive,” he makes the case for the citizenry to understand the context of African American oppression, and the White Middle Class “squeeze” – the stagnation of wages, the loss of jobs, and how some of this anger at the current economic conditions can be translated into anti-immigrant and anti-African American sentiments and dissenters. To close his discussion of the current reality, in relation to our ideals and binding documents he implores all Americans that in order to combat racial tension and issues that some think are relative only to their race or ethnicity and that they don’t affect each and every one of us – that we must unite to combat common causes such as income inequality, climate change and corporate corruption. That we as a nation, as a whole, are better than the sum of our parts, and that the few that believe in the ideals of progressions and progressivism will be able to become a working majority for good. Because people have to understand that we may try our hardest to change the way a man thinks in his heart, and often we may not, but we can change the policy and the tone of the discussion towards what we know in our hearts is justly, morally right.
I disagree with Wright’s condemnation of “God damn America.” While he is more than accurate on his descriptions of the wrongs done from the inception of this country’s birth, there is a difference between critical critique and damnation and hatred. While the one attempts to right a wrong through objectivity and equity, the other breeds division and disorder. While the former can help to embolden and bolster our institutions, bonds of community and general good, the latter can lead to the fall of a state – distrust and animosity towards the institutions that help our government to function. While the former can remove ignorance from debates between concerned citizens and foster an understanding and compassion for the plights and suffering of our fellow brothers and sisters, the latter will keep us divided, keep us ignorant and locked in the cycle that has caused the pain and suffering that we try so hard to forget to keep occurring. There is a way to critique this country without lambasting it, and forgetting that whether we like it or not we were born here and have a responsibility to uplift each and every one our fellow citizens, to learn from our past, correct the wrongs done, and move forward together, united in the belief that The United States is an ideal worth struggling for.