Elvis and Reverend Wright: How white people can accept Barack Obama and Reverend Wright

When America is worried about angry black people…embrace the wisdom of Elvis

This is a message from a white woman, who has actually been known by others and herself to be in the category of “wasp.”

Dear America: Listen to the backing vocals. And, when you have connected to the place where you really, truly enjoyed them, and actually needed them to connect with some of the subliminal conflict in your culture, then listen again to a sermon by Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

This message includes campaign advice for presidential candidate Barack Obama (even though I do not support him among others, because I belong to a third party.)

Since I fear that Barack Obama might not listen to me, this message is also to try to explain to America why they, themselves, have the power to understand that Reverend Wright is right and the people attacking him are wrong. And, that Barack Obama is missing a wonderful opportunity by not embracing Reverend Wright as an informed, compassionate, African-American leader.

The problems and injustices that Revered Jermiah Wright describes are real. There is racism in this country. Blacks and whites are not equal. The police are still more likely to shoot and kill innocent black men. And, it is important for people to communicate this information and deal with this information in their own way, with their own choices of commitment and intensity.

When I heard the Reverend’s recent speech at the NAACP, I got his message: It is okay to be different. It is okay for Reverend Wright to express his anger at injustice in the bold, loud tradition of a black preacher. And, it is okay for Barack Obama to express his anger at injustice in the smooth, unifying words of a politician.

If Barack Obama could recognize this fact, he could proceed with his campaign a lot differently. Right now, Obama is trying to fight the Karl Rove style strategy of “attack your opponents strengths, and turn them into weaknesses” by running from the attack, by running from his association with Reverend Wright. But, that will not work.

The Republicans will never, ever, let go of how bad they say it is that Obama is or was connected to Reverend Wright. Any distancing or dismissing that Obama does, only divides Obama from an old friend, and from many of the people who need Obama’s leadership and might vote for Obama. And, the distancing and division then becomes more collateral damage from the Republican/Conservative Democrat attack.

Obama can never escape the fact that he used to go to Reverend Wright’s church and that Reverend Wright acknowledges (gasp) that there is racism in America. It has stuck, much like “Swiftboat Veterans For Truth” stuck to John Kerry in a negative way, when, in fact, Kerry’s history of service should have been a positive.

What Obama needs to do is work in the spirit of real unity. Obama needs to embrace Reverend Wright, show the positive aspects of Reverend Wright, explore the value in Reverend Wright and his message, and change it so that when Clinton supporters or McCain say, “Tsk, tsk, you are associated with Reverend Wright”, some people hear “Tsk, tsk, you are associated with a man who is spiritual, and beautiful and true.”

Obama, white America can learn to like Reverend Wright. White American can understand the truth and the message that racial injustice still exists, and that it makes some black people angry.

And, white America likes the black church. We might not attend it, we might not have recognized its stamp on Reverend Wright’s words, but we have connected with it culturally. White America has connected with the Black Church through music. Think: Bob Dylan, Bono, Elvis. White America can love and accept black people, and their anger, and their form of expression, if only that message can be put in the background of our music.

If we can buy Elvis songs about an “angry young man from the ghetto”–who happened to be from Chicago–and have gospel singers celebrate and dramatize his plight, than I am sure there is a niche for this message in the American culture — and perhaps in our political psyche.

If Obama wants to thwart this recent, attack-your opponent’s strength-while-belittling-the-plight-of-the-oppressed strategy, Obama should make Elvis Presley’s “In The Ghetto” his campaign theme song. Because, somehow, white people can feel the pain and forgive the anger, when it is orchestrated by Elvis Presley and performed by beautiful women in flowing robes.

(Pssst…McCain, I think I have something for you. I wonder if any of those gospel singers in Elvis’s choir ever attended a Reverend Wright sermon?…)

~

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