The TV news has been all over the story of Barack Obama's pastor, and his over-the-top statements about race in America. A lot of this was sort of mystifying to me. Growing up Unitarian in a rural community, I ended up tagging along to a lot of churches with my friends. I learned how to blend in at unfamiliar churches (sit behind a large older lady and you'll always know when to stand up and sit down), how to sight read unfamiliar hymns (beware of Indian Mission Church, where Mrs. Collins likes to slip in an extra beat now and then to keep you on your toes) and how to follow along in the sermon until the Us vs Them part (when I just try to remember that we are all human, with all our human failings).
So I don't really know what it's like to go to church and agree with everything that's said. I was wondering if the TV commentators had actually been to church lately, or much at all. Nevertheless, I was curious to see what Obama had to say about the controversy.
He made me laugh. He was talking about his racist white grandma, and he might as well have been talking about my racist white grandma:
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.
I know that cringe well. I remember being simultaneously so proud of my grandparents but so embarrassed and mad at some of the racist things they said.Obama is skilled in taking the picayune matters that the TV pundits like to dwell on and expanding their themes to encompass our real challenges:
The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.It's a speech worth listening to, all 30 minutes, or worth reading (transcript here, under the video box).