- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

No one more than a black person in America wishes he could wave a magic wand and rid this country of the vestiges of its “original sin of slavery.”

But we better not be caught talking about our past or the racial problems of the present that compel us to live like masked men and women. Instead, we are all ordered to “get along” in denial.

That’s unless your bias is in lock step with the unsubstantiated statements shouted daily by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and sometimes on the Sabbath by ministers like the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Yet the double standard that forces most black Americans to flee, fight or try to rise above always resurfaces to knock them off the tightrope that they, like Sen. Barack Obama, walk daily.

All races should heed the racial reconciliation speech Mr. Obama delivered in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

“We cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together,” he said. So move toward “a more perfect union” by taking a different political path “this time.”

“For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. … Or at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, ‘Not this time,’ ” Mr. Obama said.

“This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected,” he said.

My Catholic University journalism students this semester, all of them young and white, view race-baiting rhetoric from Geraldine Ferraro, Mr. Wright and others as coming from “relics.”

“The problem is that the past is the past and it cannot be changed, but people can change and grow to have a more educated and worldly opinion,” writes one student, who describes herself as a registered Republican but counts herself among the “youth of America” energized by the Obama campaign.

The Obama speech conveyed the silent anger and anguish felt by many blacks up and down the socioeconomic ladder. And they wonder how the issue of race got so turned on its head that it has become solely the responsibility of blacks to remedy.

Why should that awesome American burden fall to Mr. Obama, born of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas?

The candidate’s poignant memories of cringing at comments uttered by a white grandmother and a black pastor, both considered family to him, demonstrate that he was able to determine right from wrong and to overcome society’s divisive obstacles.

Still, we are steeped in “the struggle” the struggle to be free of the shackles, the whip, the rope, the burning cross, the Jim Crow laws, the water hoses and the insidious signs of prejudice and discrimination that are harder to uproot. There is the modern-day muzzle to speak not of evil or wrongdoing.

You cannot explain what people do not care to hear. A cynic asks, “Why bother? You’ll be misinterpreted and misrepresented anyway, like Mr. Obama.”

But the sentiments of blacks, far too many still beleaguered by injustice and inequality, need to be heard and not summarily dismissed with one preacher’s incendiary words that they may disagree with.

The Democratic presidential front-runner was right when he repeated the adage that 11 a.m. Sunday is the most segregated hour of the week in America. We all have heard our spiritual leaders, pastors, rectors, rabbis and clerics utter uncomfortable and unkind words.

A political movement, after all, was built on the tenets expressed by the divisive leaders of the Moral Majority and the Christian Right. They include John Hagee, a supporter of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and who reportedly blamed Hurricane Katrina on a gay pride parade in New Orleans.

I’m not in a position to judge Mr. Wright based on carefully selected snippets and sound bites, but I have sat in enough churches, black and white, to recite the rest of those highly charged sermons.

The nuanced pep talk is given by black ministers in large and small churches to channel the laments of the congregation be they Harvard lawyers or clerks at Wal-Mart.

First, the minister points out the evils of ancient and modern man, then chides the misdeeds of oppressive political systems that hurt the masses. Last, he exalts the loving power of God, which is greater than man’s hatred.

The message is meant to console and encourage endurance by suggesting that, even though you may be reviled like Christ, you must turn the other cheek and love thy enemy. Even though you may be hated for the color of your skin, you are still a child of God and Christ died for you. Even though you must suffer injustice, remember that Christ did too, but he overcame and said on the cross, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Mr. Obama surpassed his task Tuesday going beyond the politically expedient in an eloquent and statesmanlike manner.

Divisions based on race, sex, class or religion are terrorists’ tools designed to keep us from embracing our commonality even as we recognize our cultural differences for the greater good.

But we do ourselves and future generations a disservice if we pretend those divisions do not exist. We are far from a colorblind society. “The Audacity of Hope” for change shows us just how far we have to go before “We Shall Overcome.”

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