Black Intelligentsia: Holla If You Hear Obama

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

The ball is now in America’s court. How will the country rise to Obama’s challenge? Can we agree to engage each other respectfully, stand our ground only after careful consideration, and just plain fight fair? Will both sides (yes, there are many more than two but you can’t do everything in one post) enter the fray knowing that others have a right to disagree and be proved wrong, if they are indeed wrong? So far, not so much. But a nation doesn’t transcend race in a day.

Odd how comedians are free thinking and brave enough to confront serious issues, albeit while sporting a Steve Martinesque arrow-through-the-head get-up. So far, the white boys at the Daily Show (with an assist from its Senior Black Correspondent, Larry Wilmore) win. Granted, the Jew and the black guy overcame their angry stalemate by agreeing, in the end, to dog the white guy, but hey. It’s a start. Even sadder? Confederate flag-pandering, non-evolution-believing, bring-the-Constitution-in-line-with-the-Bible Mike Huckabee is displaying more wisdom and humanity than most in what we’re hearing so far.

Come on, white folks. You can do better than this: “I don’t want to hear that [blacks] are blaming [whites] for [Wright] saying this”? “…they are perpetual victims and they enjoy the victim status and, by proxy, me as a white person is their victimizer. And as long as we perpetuate these divisions, we will never heal.” Y’all were saying that five minutes after Lee bolted from Appomattox. There was another quote from Pennsylvania I can’t find now about how blacks should be talking about the present (where things must be great for them) and not what happened 100 years ago (which must have no bearing on present racial ills. But then: see above. There are no racial ills, only an enjoyable victimology because it simply cannot be that I, a beer drinking, laid off Joe, benefit from racism or outrank anybody). Man, it must be exhausting thinking in circles like that, desperate circles that lead ever farther away from you.

But no more exhausting that the lengths blacks continue to go to to evade reconsidering their own sacred cows. So far, they aren’t exactly bringing on the deep thinking either: the whites I’m dogging are refusing to admit there is racism now, or any lingering effects from past racism. The blacks I’m after are refusing to admit that, as long as racism exists, we can behave however we choose, especially intellectually. Whatever whites criticize must be defended. I know it hurts, black people. Weirdly, I’ve experienced more life-affecting racism in the last few years since I’ve been a big ol’ success than I ever did as the ghetto-girl daughter of Jim Crow sharecroppers desperate to move on up. And don’t even get me started on gender. Still, that makes a rigorous intellectual and moral focus more important than ever. The 70s are over. Drop the bull horns, and for the love of God stop invoking COINTELPRO (no one’s bugging your tired old Third World Students Association meeting) and put your own arguments to the test before convening another kente-cloth laden panel discussion on Tuskegee.

When I began this entry, I’d intended to offer a harsh parsing of some of the black responses I’ve been reading to Obama and Wright. I’ve changed my mind and chosen less easy pickings. All but the last post below were written prior to Tuesday’s speech but after the controversy broke; let’s give the writers a chance to do some reflection. As well, speaking as both an elder and a concerned American, might I suggest that they revisit these offerings with an eye towards spotting the flaws in their logic, their attitude, and their desired outcomes. Demanding that your opponent either accept your argument whole cloth or admit that he’s a racist or sell-out will simply no longer suffice. Obama has upped the ante.

So, here are a few posts from young thinkers I admire that provide a good starting place. This one and this, too from Jasmyne Cannick. And this from Bakari Kitwana. This bit, from Kitwana, sums up both arguments: “[Obama’s decision to denounce Wright is] a strategy adopted by far too many aspiring presidential candidates and it signals, rather than an ability to think outside the box, the willingness to cave in to Americans old racial politics, a politics steeped in fear, race-baiting, with an end goal of divide and conquer.” Now that they’ve both had time to read the speech—any further thoughts?

In a post I found quite illuminating on the black prophetic tradition, I still note a troubling flaw from Melissa Harris-Lacewell, in The Root: “But we cannot enter that promised land together if white America refuses to acknowledge the prophetic truths of black religiosity. …We cannot learn from our prophets if we denounce them. Silencing Jeremiah Wright will not makes us forget hundreds of years of racial inequality. Now is the time to listen to each other carefully.” I see what whites are supposed to listen to, but blacks make up the ‘other’ here: to what are we supposed to listen?

In the only post written after the speech, I found this offering most helpful. Also from The Root, it’s by WaPo religion reporter Hamil Harris:”But the lingering question out of this whole episode is whether Americans, black and white, can ever be liberated from a mindset in which it is always hard to believe that those who look differently from us can really be a brother or sister.”


For too long, blacks have “asked” this question of whites, assured that the answer will, must, always be no. But, based on what I’m reading so far, it’s time for whites to flip the script and ask blacks the same question. Don’t ask whites to do what you have no intention of reciprocating; it takes two to transcend race. It only takes one to unleash a diatribe no one will listen to.

This, brothers and sisters, is where we begin. Not with reparations or the fight against affirmative action or the criminal justice system, or who’s right and who’s wrong. Do we actually want to co-exist peacefully in mutual respect? If so, how best is that to be achieved?

Obama’s not talking about revolution but about a truth and reconciliation process. Black intelligentsia: holla if you hear him.

Update: CNN’s Roland Martin withheld judgement on the Wright flap until he could do something odd—read the full text of the 9/11 sermon that started the fire. He also helpfully points out that the “god damn America” line appears nowhere in that sermon although we were given to believe it did. One more thing—with the ‘chickens coming home to roost’ line, “[h]e was actually quoting Edward Peck, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and deputy director of President Reagan’s terrorism task force, who was speaking on FOX News. That’s what he told the congregation.” (We’ll have to check with Fox to find out whether Peck gave Malcolm X his props or plagiarized him. Either way, shouldn’t we know demand that whites denounce and disown Peck for ‘associating’ with Malcolm?)


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and billionaires wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2023 demands.

payment methods


Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2023 demands.

payment methods

We Recommend


Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.