Sunday, March 23, 2008

Obama's White Grandmother Brouhaha

In an attempt to justify his ongoing association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama compared him and his brand of racism with that of his white grandmother:

"As imperfect as he [Rev. Wright] may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”

I don't think this is a fair comparison. For one thing, his white grandmother came into his life at birth -- he didn't get a choice about whether to associate with her and even if he turned his back on her, she'd still be his grandmother. His association with Rev. Wright, on the other hand, isn't by default; he had and still has a choice in the matter.

Secondly, Rev. Wright is the pastor of an extremely influential church, who essentially has a national pulpit, and his views affect many people. The influence of Obama's grandmother doesn't extend beyond her own family circle.

When called to clarify statements about his grandmother, Obama had this to say:

"the point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity. She doesn't. But she is a typical white person, who, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know, well there's a reaction that's in our experiences that won't go away and can sometimes come out in the wrong way. And that's just the nature of race in our society. We have to break through it."

Typical white person? Pardon me, but if Hillary Clinton uttered the words "typical black person" in any context at all, people all over the country from the far left to the far right would be hanging her out to dry. I don't see why Obama should get a pass for this sweeping generalization.

If he'd said something to the effect that her view was common for a white woman of her generation, that would have been more reasonable. But it still wouldn't have made the comparison between her and Rev. Wright any more valid.

Nevertheless, I don't think this issue is a make-or-break deal for Obama, and I don't think he holds the same extreme views as Rev. Wright. Nor will this keep me from voting for him. Indeed, John McCain has some associations with Christian leaders who hold views just as extreme, and sometimes more so, such as John Hagee and Rod Parsley.


No comments: