Saturday, April 26, 2008

bill moyers and the reverend jeremiah wright

When Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, burst into the public consciousness a while back, I'd only been an Obama convert for about a month. I watched the endless loops of Wright hollering God damn America and was horrified. In part, it was because I assumed that these tapes signaled the end of Obama's candidacy.

Even though I stay pissed at my country these days, it felt like a slap. It wasn't just the God damn America stuff, but what I heard was racist and that hurt. It's what I heard. With cooler head and less emotion a few days later, I listened to what the man was saying and I realized that I'd thought and believed many of the same things.

I believe that our foreign policy decisions and our disregard for the sovereignty of other nations led us to the point that we were attacked by terrorists on September 11. Some of the other things Wright said were nothing new, but seemed a bit harder to swallow. I'd heard before that the US government infected African Americans with HIV and I'd heard before that the US was behind the crack epidemic and honestly, I gave those things little thought. I am prone to donning my tinfoil hat at times and I am happy to allow others to don their own.

It's so easy to stay on the surface of things, surface thinking, not bothering to go any deeper than what's just obviously apparent because it's easy and quick and much less painful. But the reality is that this country has infected people with diseases in order to study the results. Right here in this country, in an experiment running from 1932 to 1972, scientists withheld treatment from black men with syphilis in order to see how the disease would run its course. Even after 1947, when the disease was curable with penicillin, treatment was withheld even though it could have saved the lives of the study participants because scientists wanted to see exactly how the disease kills. Participants were prevented from seeking treatment elsewhere and the study wasn't discontinued until it was leaked to the press. Black men. Expendable. Of no real import, nothing more than lab rats.

In 1963, 20 chronically ill non-cancer patients were injected with cancer cells without their knowledge as part of a USPHS study. In 1953, an infant was given high levels of oxygen without parental consent. Oxygen was suspected to cause blindness. It did. Severely retarded children at Willowbrook State Hospital in New York were deliberately infected with the hepatitis virus, while their parents "gave consent" by signing a document which implied the children were being vaccinated against hepatitis. In Cincinnati between 1960-1972, a group of black men were given huge doses of whole body radiation without their consent. The men thought they were receiving treatment for cancer. Instead they became terribly ill from radiation sickness, experienced painful burns, and some died prematurely. That travesty was courtesy of the US Army. There's more, but you get the point.

So yeah, the US has done some dirty shit to its people, especially its people of darker hues. But drugs? Seriously? Oh . . . well, there have always been vague rumors about the CIA and dope in Vietnam. And the CIA and dope in South America. The CIA and military and dope and Iran-Contra. There are whole websites devoted to this and I won't go into it. But I will say that on this point, and at this point in time, I would put nothing past my government. Nothing.

So I was fairly quickly okay with the Wright thing, wishing it would go away, that it had never happened. Then comes Bill Moyers, one of the last true journalists in this country, and his interview with Reverend Wright last night.

How many times do I have to learn this lesson ~ that soundbytes mean nothing without context ~ before I really get it? In 40-45 minutes or so with Moyers, Jeremiah Wright provides the context for what seems to be so shocking taken in disjointed bits. He tells us about his church and what it means to him and the good they've done and will continue to do.

Wright is a gentle man, a good man and if the whole Wright controversy has bothered you at all, even if you're over it at this point, listen to him. He is intelligent, thoughtful, generous, kind. He's a real American, a patriot, a man who loves his country enough to stand up and dissent when it's necessary. It's an excellent interview. Please listen to this man. I did, and came away feeling that I'd be a better person if I'd had the good fortune to associate with him for 20 years.

Wright Interview, Part I

Wright Interview, Part II

And here this gentle man tells it true. "America's chickens" are coming home to roost.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree with you. Wright is a racist, there's no two ways around it. He's obviously more concerned with power than he is with helping. And Obama should have stood up and made a stand instead of tolerating it. Obama lost my support because of this.

April 27, 2008 11:31 AM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

and it's clear from that, anonymous, that you didn't listen to the man.

April 27, 2008 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i strongly agree with you, lynette. listening to the interview yesterday was the highlight of about a month for me. i found myself thinking that if i lived in chicago i'd want to go to his church. i was talking to my mother about the interview. she, a 70-y-o white evangelical christian woman in texas who voted for huckabee in the primary, would consider voting for obama in november b/c of the things rev. wright says in this interview and the ways he talks about the scripture that means so much to her. she couldn't get it to play on her computer, but she read the transcript. i feel so tired when i hear or read of people who so vehemently oppose someone or something without listening first.

April 27, 2008 2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I strongly disagree with you. Wright is a racist, there's no two ways around it."

Ah yes, the old reverse racism argument that is at its core, inherently flawed. Racism, anon, is a system, not a sheet and a hood. In 2008 it usually will manifest institutionally, and it will always have a dynamic of power that flows from the dominant culture to the margins.

That is the context this man is speaking from, and he is witnessing very clearly what is a history of brutal oppression and racism in the US. If it hurts to look at that, consider why, then do something about it. Don't further polarize racial tensions over this nonsense that presupposes an equal playing field. That's the goal, it's not the reality. That, is his point.

April 27, 2008 3:35 PM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

anonymous, in your view, is it not acceptable for american citizens to express dissent?

if you don't want to bother listening to the moyers interview with wright, at least watch the clip there at the very end of this post.

it provides context for the teensy little soundbyte from a wright sermon which seems to indict israel.

i don't see how any kind of patriot in this country cannot honestly look at what we have done in the world.

how do we ever change anything if we're too afraid to speak the truth? the man was speaking the truth: america's foreign policy has spread murder and mayhem across the globe and it is, thus, pretty outrageous that we express such shock and dismay when it happens here.

and he didn't even touch on what happened with the neoliberal chicago school economists running roughshod over the developing world at the behest of this government, the ultra rich, milton friedman and the cia.

the actions of the united states were directly responsible for the overthrow of governments in south america, the installation of dictators, and the deaths of thousands and thousands of civilians, all in the name of democracy and the free market.

if we can't look at the travesties we have perpetrated on others, we will be doomed to continue to behave as the world's violent sociopathic community, doing exactly what we want, come hell or high water, the costs, in lives and treasure, be damned.

April 27, 2008 5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Great post. I had to turn off CNN's "(un)Reliable Sources" yesterday when they took on Moyers' interview with Wright. They said Moyers soft-pedaled Wright and delivered him a gift card interview. My response is that Moyers was BALANCE against the tsunami torrent of negative press and slanders thrown at Wright who was only speaking the truth as his congregation sees it and white America ignores.

Then some of the panelists, especially William Safire said the whole context of Wright's speech was even more damning than the clips!

In out "America uber alles" culture NO CRITICISM OF THIS COUNTRY IS TOLERATED IN THE SLIGHTEST in or out of the media. I never thought I would live to see the day when such propaganda that would make Goebbels blush would be broadcast as de rigeuer on American television and people would eat it up like cake.

I switched off CNN. I really should stop watching all US news channels - they only upset me.

April 28, 2008 7:50 AM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

shit, i missed that crap. how odd that CNN then ran Wright's speech at the Detroit NAACP gathering last night in entirety.

that was, i thought, magnificent. and the post-speech discussion talked about context and how CNN has been accused of taking Wright out of context and playing inflammatory clips over and over and over.

that fucking tool pat buchanan was on msnbc this morning talking like the racist pig that he is just before wright was set to address the press club in DC. it will be interesting to see what msnbc has to say about that.

what i hear in wright is maybe, just maybe, a leader for the kind of movement that we need to reignite MLK's vision and move us past this place of being in such a rut.

i want more for my grandkids and i want them to have people like wright, like obama, to look up to. when old white men feel just fine about calling two little boys ni**er and animals, we have more work to do. i hope Wright is correct: a change is going to come. i hope so.

April 28, 2008 8:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"that fucking tool pat buchanan was on msnbc this morning talking like the racist pig that he is"

Wasn't that completely unbelievable? Isn't it funny how he gets away with that, in effect gets a free pass from the media because those just aren't his opinions they are his "spiritual beliefs" and I suppose the rational is we can't question those. Scary stuff.

April 28, 2008 9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I believe very strongly in dissent, hence why I am even posting here. Wright has the right to say whatever he wants. Just as I have the right to state my opinion about it. He is a racist and a divisive figure that goes against everything Obama purports to stand for, but fails to deliver on.

April 28, 2008 10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, please tell me how you are defining the term racist.

April 28, 2008 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has always been easier for people of racial privilege to claim reverse discrimination, rather than looking at their own complicity in a historically unlevel playing field. Wright is not a racist, but a minister addressing the issues his flock has faced, and problems we ALL will face, given the history of our interactions in world affairs. I was over the soundbite propaganda about five minutes after hearing it. Anonymous is entitled to his/her cowardly opinion hidden without name, which is ironically the very reason racism continues to be such an unresolved issue; we are too afraid to address it out in the opinion.

April 28, 2008 12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops, that should have read "open".

April 28, 2008 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lynette - The result of your truthful post cements the truth: Racism IS still here. Tater mentioned how it continues. ANONYMOUS puzzles me. He's too cowardly to say who he is HERE so he can say what he really believes. Why he's not over at one of the minions of rabid neo-conservative sites where he can be with his own is my question. There he could simply repeat the mantras of ignorance and mistruth over and over as they all do....where they quote unfounded or biased "studies" to prove we live in the year 1908, or 1808.....

I'll never forget the day my Mormon Father heard the news that the "Prophet" had received a revelation that the "Blacks had advanced far enough in their spiritual growth to receive the Mormon Priesthood, and, therefore, would be allowed in the sacred temples alongside himself. Immediately erasing my perceived hope he too had grown along with the times (it was 1967), he leaped from his chair, grabbed his chest in pain, and loudly whined, "Oh, my God. SURELY they'll put in separate bathrooms in the temple."
So much for his own spiritual growth, eh?

Cheers to you for giving voice to this. I recognized WRIGHT'S Cry for his people's freedom the DAY we heard that speech and have been painfully aghast ever since at the Corporate Media's insistence to beat him and Obama down. On LIES! Why should I be surprised? They've been doing it for years. Repuglican slimery! It depresses me.

April 28, 2008 3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A name? Is that all you want? My name is John. How that matters makes no sense to me. I don't know who any of you are either. Does it matter that I'm also a black man? That I'm gay? That I donated the maximum amount to Obama's campaign and am now disgusted that I did so? Wright is, in my mind, indefensible. I wouldn't tolerate any "white" church or "white" pastor saying the things Wright has said, and I won't do the same the other way either. I do not believe in th epolitics of division and I will not support them or justify them or somehow coddle them just because I need it to fit into a narrow view of the world dictated to me by a bias press.

April 28, 2008 5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, you obviously have not listened to the man. Seems to me you prejudged him without giving him the benefit of a thorough understanding. That you are a gay POC is even more tragic, because you fell for the propagandist hatchet job without thinking it through; giving a man with a very positive personal history the benefit of a doubt vs a sound bite. On the off chance you have listened to his interviews and still feel the same way, then I agree to disagree with you.

April 29, 2008 5:42 AM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

one of the justifications for racism that i hear from well off white folk is this: why after all this time, after handout after handout, why can't "they" get it together?

one of the things that most infuriates me these days is the refusal of the right, most republicans, most of the "haves" in this world to recognize that a historical lack of equality impacts the lives of people right now, today.

my family acquired property almost immediately upon arrival in this country in 1893. that property remained in the family, expanded upon, handed down for multiple generations. it created a foundation upon which to build further wealth.

in this system of ours, wealth generates wealth and without the basic building blocks of that, building blocks that most african americans and native americans in this country have been substantially denied until the early 1900s, where do you get a footing?

after listening to the talking heads last night, i am wondering about rev. wright's motivation in his series of talks. but that doesn't change the fact that i believe he speaks the truth, that what he is saying is real and could be the opening salvo in a new discussion of race relations in this country, a discussion we desperately need.

as i said above, when my grandkids go for a swim and old white fucks call them niggers and animals, we have not moved far enough from our racist past in this nation. that is intolerable and it happened in 2007. it's not over here and i fear that as the economy worsens under george bush's watch, the gains we have made will deteriorate.

April 29, 2008 7:43 AM  
Blogger Thomas MacEntee said...


Thanks so much for confirming what I thought was my suspicion all along when the Rev. Wright story first broke: it smelled of the entire Swift Boat campaign which seemed to crucify Kerry.

While the Wingnuts don't have a monopoly on such tactics (see the recent DNC ad about McCain's 100 years comment), they tend to wield that stick more than anyone else. Basically they are afraid that too many people will realize just how liberating it is to take the time and seek the truth. They dumb us down and think we can only handle info in soundbites. But the Republicans have been doing this even since Nixon (remember his calling Helen Gahagan Douglas an avowed "thespian"?)

I'm a gay, white, middle-aged man in the Midwest who attended seminary for a year. I have a varied spiritual grounding (Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal) and I know what Rev. Wright is getting at. And he is also using the tried and true method of preaching that has been used in African-American churches for many years. But unfortunately a derranged group has decided to use this against Obama through Rev. Wright.

I hope all this makes sense. Now I need to get back to my plot to reveal Ann Coulter for the hot tranny mess she really is.

April 29, 2008 8:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not only have I listened to Wright's speeches, but I have attended his church. This has nothing to do with politics or propaganda. The man is about division. Obama is (supposed" to be about unification. There is a severe disconnect there and unless Obama completely and absolutely denounces the man, he will not get my vote.

April 29, 2008 10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious, now that Obama has said he is "outraged" by Wright, does that change your opinion at all?

April 29, 2008 1:25 PM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

no. as i said, i believe the vast majority of what Rev. Wright said is true. i honestly don't see how anyone can't see it if they're able to set aside the inflammatory nature of his remarks to look at what's true in them.

April 29, 2008 1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So does it bother you that Obama has denounced Wright and called his statements outrageous? Do you disagree with Obama?

April 29, 2008 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"So does it bother you that Obama has denounced Wright and called his statements outrageous? Do you disagree with Obama?"

She just answered you above very clearly. So I'm curious as to the direction you are clearly shifting this discussion into. It seems we have gone from the comments of Wright that seem, in my view, to have been framed purposely and simplistically out context by the MSM, to the issue of someones support for Obama being contingent upon loudly denouncing Wright.

Is this really about your rejection of Wright, or is about your greater dislike of Obama, and Wright can be a convenient figure head for naming that dislike?

April 29, 2008 4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, just curious if Obama has any sway over his followers, and whether his denunciation of Wright influences the opinions of those who support him. It appears not, at least in this case. Which, of course, begs the question: why are you supporting Obama? He's not economically in line with you. He's not socially in line with you. He's not politically in line with you. So where does the support come from? As someone who tends to support candidates who share my opinions and values, it's strange to see someone support a candidate who does not.

April 29, 2008 8:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or, in other words, Obama has stated he now finds your views to be "ridiculous." Why would you support a candidate who thinks your views are ridiculous?

April 29, 2008 8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have over simplified the sentiments of Obama to a huge degree anonymous.

That being said, even if a politician agreed with his views 100% you know and I know there would never be a politician who will stand behind those views, as the majority of the country has proven incapable of understanding or accepting them, thus it would be kissing their own candidacy away. Because of that, I can understand a decision to not stand behind the views. However that cannot be taken to mean he does not support them personally.

Now, can you answer my question please, about what your overall point was in this thread?

April 29, 2008 9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How have I oversimplified them? Obama was very clear today in calling Wright's statements ridiculous, outrageous and indefensible.

So are you saying you continue to support Obama because you velieve he is actually in agreement with Wright and is lying when he says he's not? That's very interesting, especially since Obama specifically addressed that by saying he was absolutely sincere in stating he did not agree with Wright's views.

So, either Obama agrees with Wright's views or he is a liar is what you seem to be saying. Either way, Obama is certainly not living up to his promise of being a uniter.

My point? Didn't realize there had to be one beyond discussion and a desire to try and understand why people continue to support Obama, especially people whose views Obama has called ridiculous.

April 29, 2008 10:21 PM  
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