Jonetta Rose Barras confesses that she once subscribed to Wright-wing ideology. She opens her piece in the WaPo today:
I’ve known preachers like the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., former pastor to Sen. Barack Obama. Like many of them, he no doubt sees his congregation as full of victims, and thinks that his words will inspire them to rise out of their victimhood. I understand that.
Once upon a time, I saw myself as a victim, too, destined to march in place. In the 1970s and ’80s, as a clenched-fist-pumping black nationalist with my head wrapped in an elaborate gele, I reflected that self-concept in my speech. My words were as fiery as the Rev. Wright’s. And more than a few times, I, too, damned America, loudly, for its treatment of blacks.
But I turned away from such rhetoric. Is it time that Wright and other ministers do, too?
Barras says yes:
In my years as a black nationalist, I often spelled America in my poems with a “k” — sometimes three. I believed that organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan couldn’t possibly have operated and prospered without permission, tacit or otherwise, and support from the U.S. government. It seemed logical to conclude that racism and injustice were fundamental, inherent elements of the United States — of its government, its policies and its institutions.
In those days, I believed that I was in a serious battle for my future. My fiery words were part of an effort to persuade myself that I had the power to break out of the narrow confines created by segregation. And I sought to seduce others to join in the fight. We could not permit the discrimination we faced daily to beat us down.
I never met the Rev. Wright during this explosive period of my life. But I met and listened to others whose speeches were equally blistering and damning of the United States, its government and its economic system. I even flirted with the ideology of a black separatist group.
…That other African Americans and I were able to overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles is undeniably due, in part, to Wright-like prophetic speech. Like Negro spirituals, it helped us organize, motivate and empower ourselves.
But just as spirituals eventually lost their relevance and potency as an organizing tool against discrimination — even as they retained their historical importance in the African American cultural narrative — so, I believe, has Wright-speak lost its place. It’s harmful and ultimately can’t provide healing. And it’s outdated in the 21st century.
Tell it to San Francisco.
Culture quiz question (no peeking at the links before you’ve taken a guess):