Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Obama's opportunity to bring about real change

In my previous post, I linked to a Pastor Wright claim that "We've got more black men in prison than there are in college." This is probably technically true, but it's misleading. People generally attend college in their late teens and early twenties, while criminals can be of any age. By comparing a narrow age group of black male students to the black male prison population at large Wright is able to advance his racist message. Nothing new there.

Throughout his campaign, however, Barack Obama has echoed an amended version of Wright's misleading claim: "We have more work to do when more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America." This is a more meaningful comparison, since uses the same age range on both sides of the comparison. Unfortunately for Obama--though fortunately for young black men--this claim is false. There are, in fact, no where near as many young black men in prison as in college.

My guess is that Obama picked up this "fact" from somewhere--probably from Wright--and accepted it without bothering to check it out. As with Wright, the claim is convenient to Obama's message, and so he incorporated it into his stump speech, narrowing the scope to young black men because it makes a better comparison, no matter that it is demonstrably false. If this sounds cynical, consider that Obama continues to make the claim even after such media sources as the Washington Post pointed out the mistake to his campaign. So, a politician insists on his own set of facts. Again, nothing new there.

What I wish to call attention to here is that, beneath the overt racism and anti-Americanism that have understandably been the focus of the Obama-Wright scandal, there is a more insidious danger. Wright has a pattern of inventing "facts" to support his demagoguery, and these are accepted by his congregants (apparently including people as bright as the Obamas) as truth. As long as this continues, racism, and the problems in the black community, will persist.

If we're truly committed to breaking the cycle of racism, these types of claims need to be challenged publicly and aggressively. Doing so is much more important to our society than that which garners so much media attention. Obama, in particular, is in a unique position to take on this issue. Unfortunately, he's got a campaign to run, and he's apparently decided that engaging blacks on the hatred and propaganda perpetuated in these types of churches and communities will cost him votes in November.

He may be right about that, but I don't believe we'll find the kind of unity Obama speaks of as long as it's acceptable for high-profile "black leaders" to go around indoctrinating Blacks into believing that Whites invented AIDS in order to exterminate Blacks. It's not enough to reject Wright or call him a kook. The false claims must be refuted individually and decisively to set the record straight. Far too many Blacks appear willing to embrace and defend this type of nonsense. These are teaching moments, and we are squandering them.

It will take a new type of black leader to affect change. . . change Blacks can believe in.

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