Towards the beginning of the primaries, I kinda fell for Barack Obama. I feel quite a bit harder than I ever expected I’d fall for a front-runner for the Democratic nomination. My girlfriend and I were glued to the TV during the first primaries and especially on Super Tuesday, cheering every time Obama won a state. I felt hopeful, I felt energized, I felt invested. For the first time in the eight years that make up my voting life, I actually donated to the campaign of a presidential nominee. For someone who’s quite cynical about electoral politics, these were remarkable things to be experiencing.
As the campaigns continued on, I began to grew weary. The novelty and optimism began to wear off. All of the political posturing, maneuvering and bullshit started to try my patience. Obama kept doing things to remind me that he’s still a centrist Democrat and was pretty much destined to disappoint me, annoy me, or straight up piss me off. On primary nights I barely payed attention the the television reports, if I watched at all. And if I did watch, I tuned out about one minute into Barack’s speeches, which all sounded the same by now.
When the mess about Obama’s relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright started up back in March, I was more upset by the media’s response and the Clinton campaign’s opportunism about it than I was about Obama’s response. I was angry that he’d be so pressed upon to disavow his connections to a man who was simply being honest and upfront about racism, his own experience and understanding of racism as a Black man living in this country. Obama’s response wasn’t the defiant, firmly anti-racist rebuttal that I would have loved to see, but I understood that he had few choices in this situation that wouldn’t just provide more cannon fodder for his critics and the Clinton campaign. I actually thought that some parts of his speech on race dealt quite deftly with both the Wright situation specifically and race and racism in general. Maybe his speech didn’t reflect my racial politics, but I understood what he was trying to say and appreciated that he dealt with it as well as he did.
But after yesterday’s press conference in which Obama completely threw Wright under the bus, I’m officially over him.
I get that Obama had few choices here. I understand that, American society being what it is, Obama would face political demolition if he didn’t disown Wright. I can see that the media has been happily fanning the flames of this controversy and that it’s miserable timing for Obama’s campaign. I know that politics is a game and Obama’s playing it as best he can.
The whole thing still leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. Especially this part:
But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS, when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century, when he equates the United States wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses. They offend me. They rightly offend all Americans. And they should be denounced. And that’s what I’m doing very clearly and unequivocally here today.
The emphasis there is mine. That might be the part that angered me the most. No, Obama, not all Americans are offended by Wright’s comments. The implication that all Americans should “rightly” be offended by his comments is, in fact, offensive.
Let’s actually take the three topics Obama references.
But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS …
Why, exactly, is that such a ridiculous proposition? Let’s look at what Wright said on the topic in his speech to the National Press Club:
… based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything.
In fact, in fact, in fact, one of the — one of the responses to what Saddam Hussein had in terms of biological warfare was a non- question, because all we had to do was check the sales records. We sold him those biological weapons that he was using against his own people.
So any time a government can put together biological warfare to kill people, and then get angry when those people use what we sold them, yes, I believe we are capable.
I don’t firmly believe that the U.S. government invented AIDS in order to kill Black people. But I also don’t firmly disbelieve it. And if you take out the part about inventing it and limit the assertion to the government allowing the AIDS virus to run rampant amongst certain communities – gay people, people of color, and poor people primarily – then I come a lot closer to saying that it’s very, very possible, if not probable.
And why not? Why would we think the U.S. government so incapable of such a thing? Wright points out the very good example of the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphillis in the Negro Male, in which the U.S. Public Health Service allowed many Black men and women to suffer from syphillis with neither treatment nor knowledge of their condition. This isn’t distant history: the study began in 1932 and continued until 1972, when it was ended as a result of a leak to the press. Had that leak not had happened, who knows how long it would’ve continued. And there are other examples of such medical violence against people of color in our country’s history, from the more distant British war tactic of giving smallpox-laced blankets to Native Americans to the much more recent forced sterilizations of Native, Puerto Rican, and Black women. (Even though I’ve known of this for a while, it took a lot for me not to cry just now when I read that “By 1968 … a campaign by private agencies and the Puerto Rican [American controlled] government resulted in the sterilization of one-third of Puerto Rican women of childbearing age.”) Given these well-documented incidents in American history, why, exactly, is it so far-fetched that the government might have had a similar hand in steering the AIDS virus and allow it to tear through some of this nation’s most oppressed communities? And moreover, why would such a suggestion be offensive? It’s beyond me.
Let’s move on.
… when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century …
Now, I won’t argue that Farrakhan hasn’t said some thoroughly fucked up things, not only about Jewish people but also about queer people. (Though I did find some Wikipedia background on his various controversies to be far more nuanced than what I usually hear and, in some cases, quite surprising.) Again, though, when you look at what Wright actually said at the National Press Club and on the Bill Moyers show, he’s basically saying that, even though he doesn’t agree with Farrakhan on all points, he recognizes his importance or impact as a Black leader. This makes sense, and it doesn’t seem all that different than Obama’s stance on Wright just a few weeks ago.
… when he equates the United States wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses.
I’m sorry, but when you consider that more than one-hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have died since the beginning of the U.S.-led war, many directly due to the actions of the United States and its coalition, what is offensive or ridiculous about comparing this to terrorism? And what is offensive or ridiculous about pointing out that the United States should not be surprised that its long history of violence and imperialism against other nations and peoples has resulted in violence directed at the United States?
So, again, I don’t find Wright’s statements to be ridiculous or offensive. What I find ridiculous and offensive is that Obama and his campaign apparently believe that Wright should have shut up and behaved when he was being pilloried in the press. And I find it even more ridiculous and offensive that, in order to win even a shot at the presidency in this country, a Black man must disown and disparage a man he claimed was like family to him because that man was unafraid to be up front about racism in this country.