Feature

How they see us: Failing to transcend race

The first nomination of a black man for president of the United States is at risk of being derailed

The first nomination of a black man for president of the United States is at risk of being derailed—by another black man, said Paul Sheehan in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald. The rest of the world has long looked to the U.S. as a model, if an imperfect one, of a multiethnic society. By now, we all thought, “America should be entering the fifth phase of the evolution of its black population—slavery, segregation, civil rights, affirmative action, and, finally, equality.” But in the past few weeks, the candidacy of Barack Obama has been severely hurt by his links to a controversial black preacher. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright is notorious for preaching that the U.S. is a terrorist nation that invented AIDS to kill blacks. Rather than helping Obama by recanting “this absurdity,” Wright instead repeated it “in a credibility meltdown that revealed him, before a national television audience, as a deluded narcissist.” Now Obama has been sinking in the polls, and he has the black preacher to blame.

Wright has merely exposed the anger that has lurked in black America all along, said Marc Hujer and Cordula Meyer in Germany’s Der Spiegel. “Thousands of black ministers across America preach similar sentiments Sunday after Sunday.” They say that God is on the side of the oppressed, and that in America, it is blacks who are oppressed. The tone is angry, resentful, victimized—quite different from “that of Oprah Winfrey or Bill Cosby, blacks who know how to talk to whites so as not to frighten them.”

Obama was talking that white talk, said Dietmar Ostermann in Germany’s Frankfurter Rundschau. At the beginning of the campaign, at least, many American blacks resented him for it, because they sensed that “his success had much to do with the perception that he is a ‘good black man,’ not the scary kind.” When it came time to vote, though, the vast majority of African-Americans went with Obama. But now he is in a bind. Having had to fervently renounce the Rev. Wright, Obama now risks alienating what up until now had been his most reliable voting bloc.

Obama can still bridge the racial divide, said Daniel Hannan in Britain’s Daily Telegraph. He is inspiring precisely because he rejects race-based anger. The rage of the Rev. Wright might end up being a good thing for Obama, as it demonstrates so clearly how his message of self-reliance threatens Wright’s message of victimization. “Deep down, Wright knows that Obama’s election would falsify his narrative of race relations in America.” If a black man really can get a major-party nomination for the presidency, the “Sharptons and Wrights and Farrakhans” would be exposed as relics of a bygone era. Obama represents the future—a hopeful, optimistic future. And we all know Americans are nothing if not optimists.

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