Fr. Massingale on Rev. Wright.
A bit late to the party–which is just fine–Marquette theologian Fr. Bryan Massingale offers a thoughtful op-ed on the Jeremiah Wright controversy (from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal):
The fact that many seem unable to move on is a signal that something more is fueling this ongoing discussion. And until we name it, we won’t be able to move beyond it.
I suspect that an underlying issue is this: Obama’s association with Wright raises in many whites an unarticulated fear that Obama may be an “angry black man.” They dread he may be a closet Al Sharpton, a secret Louis Farrakhan, a stealth advocate of racial hostility, an undercover agent for racial “payback.”
This sounds foolish, even preposterous, when put so directly. But race-based anxieties are not rational, and this would not be the first time that racial foolishness has affected the public discourse of Obama’s candidacy
How else would one characterize discussions such as “Is Obama black enough?” or “Is he too black?” or “Why are all the blacks voting for him?”
Because many whites know few (if any) black men in any depth, the Wright controversy makes them view Obama through the lens of “black men” that has been constructed for them. They see him through the filter of what they have heard – and perhaps fear – about black men. Obama becomes not a black individual but an entity based upon a composite of the few political black men whom whites “know” through the media – such as Sharpton, Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson. This is not rational, but it is real.
What is happening to Obama is a common experience for many black men. He has become a walking “ink blot,” a living Rorschach test, upon which is projected white fears, fantasies and anxieties.
As a black man who is also a Catholic priest, I am familiar with this dynamic. Over the years, many well-intentioned white parishioners have told me that I remind them of Denzel Washington (though I wish I were that handsome), Clarence Thomas (though I am a polar opposite of his political views) and Jackson (though I could never match his rhetorical riffs). I am seen through the prism of the only black men that they “know.”
I also have been told by well-meaning whites that I am “too soft on race” (i.e., not black enough) while others have written that I am nothing more than a “politically correct race hustler” (i.e., too black). I have had a white co-worker, a good friend, run from me in fear as I approached her at dusk, wearing a baseball cap and without my identifying collar. I have come to realize that for many, without their conscious awareness, I am a living “ink blot” upon which they read their own unexamined concerns, fears and anxieties.
This is one of the deepest tragedies of racism or any social prejudice: It robs one of the freedom to be an individual, to be “me” rather than a “category.”
Read the rest right here.