Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Kareem on Wright

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a post at HuffPost today about Jeremiah Wright. First of all, thank goodness for this, because I finally have something I can write about that isn't about the Clintons. Kareem also has a blog at the LA Times.

I like Kareem, not just because he's a classy guy, but because he played for the Lakers. He also played for UCLA, which is unfortunate (I went to USC), but that is balanced by playing for the Lakers.

He has a very measured, careful piece about Jeremiah Wright. He makes what I think should be an obvious point: we are carrying the burdens of history.

"Because of the nature of the problems, which in many cases were started in the 19th Century, Americans in this day and age have to pay for issues that they didn't cause and shouldn't have to fix. But nonetheless we are stuck with the tab."

He specifically cites Katrina, and, believe it or not, cuts FEMA some slack:

The incompetence and unpreparedness of the authorities who where supposed to do something about the disaster was seen by blacks as racism pure and simple. But actually the folks at FEMA were trying to straighten out a situation created by racist policies put in place 80 or 90 years ago. Again and again these situations rear up and bite us all and create more bitterness and distrust between different sectors of Americans.

I think this is something that gets lost in the debate. Lots of white people look at our current reality and wonder why black people don't work harder, or go to college, or somehow pick themselves up by their bootstraps. But we forget that we have lots of advantages. I sure didn't have to pick myself up by my bootstraps. I was fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood with great public schools, and even more fortunate that my parents could afford to send me to an elite private college in the east. And my parents were the beneficiaries of the hard work of their parents, and so on.

Kareem also explains the tendency of African Americans to believe in conspiracy theories. I'm going to quote this at length:

Reverend Wright suggested in one of his sermons that AIDS was intentionally allowed to infect people because it would probably do most of its damage in the black community. White Americans see this view point as racist paranoia. But black Americans remember the Tuskegee experiment when black men who had syphilis were left untreated intentionally so the progress of the disease could be studied by government doctors. This actually happened and its memory has caused a collective distrust of doctors in the black community for which white Americans can not see any rational basis. Again we are stuck with dealing with the evil deeds that were done before many of us were born.

There's a very simple reason many blacks see conspiracy theories where white people don't: because, for many, many years, there WERE conspiracies that kept black people oppressed. Paranoia is justified when people are, in fact, out to get you, or even when they no longer are, but were in the past. Jim Crow was not just a conspiracy theory, it was a whole bunch of conspiracies, perpetuated by lots of different groups in different parts of the country, and affecting blacks in most areas of their lives.

But Kareem, at the end, is optimistic, both in his own ability to explain:

"I am mentioning these events to give a more complete background to Rev. Wright's comments from his pulpit."

and our collective ability to heal the wounds:

"Together we can make the dreams of the Founding Fathers a reality for all Americans."

Tell you what, Kareem, just writing this post, I'll root for UCLA in the NCAA. For at least one game.

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