Rev. Jeremiah Wright was not wrong to note that America is a country controlled by rich white people.
"Rich white men fit the mold," Wright said at one point in his now-ubiquitous Christmastime sermon. And he is, of course, correct. For all the strides people of color have made in the past half-century, for all the strides women have made in the past half-century, the vast majority of our leaders and the vast majority of power in this country is in the hands of people who look quite a bit like me, only thinner.
Wright's sermon was half-right; when he talked about Hillary Clinton not having to worry about catching a cab or being pulled over for driving while black, he was absolutely correct; no white person has to deal with those things. We don't have to worry about having our right to vote attacked, or having people with our skin tone left to die in a flooded-out city.
But Wright was only half-right. He forgot, in his drive to point out that Hillary Clinton can't know what it is like to be Barack Obama, that Barack Obama can't know what it's like to be Hillary Clinton.
Barack Obama has never had to worry about being raped. He has never had to worry when his period was late. It was never suggested to him in school that he shouldn't aspire to more than staying home and raising a family.
If Barack Obama's daughters are rambunctious or out-of-control at an event, he won't be blamed for it; that will fall to his wife. If he shows emotion, he won't be assailed for being too "soft." Hillary Clinton, to quote Wright, "ain't never been called a nigger." But Barack Obama ain't never been called a bitch. Or a slut. Or a whore.
I am truly frustrated with both sides in this struggle for the Democratic party's nomination. I should not be surprised, of course; we have the first viable female candidate and the first viable person of color running against each other. And while it would be nice if everything was positive and happy and upbeat, sadly we seem bent on playing the more-oppressed-than-thou game, where Geraldine Ferraro comes out and says Obama is where he is because he's an African-American, and where Wright forgets that Clinton may not have had to overcome racism, but she's surely had to overcome sexism.
Whose comments are worse? Ferraro's comments were more disappointing to me, because I had liked and respected her, and would have voted for her in 1984 had I been old enough. Wright is just a minister, and I've heard far more hateful sermons from men who called themselves men of God.
But Wright's statements are certainly not helpful, and I'd like Obama to actually explain how he feels about them, and I'd like him -- just as I'd like Hillary -- to acknowledge that the candidates on the Democratic side of the aisle are fighting prejudice.
I understand Obama wants to avoid saying that about himself, because he fears he'll be looked on as "playing the race card" -- but he can say, flatly, that Hillary Clinton has had to fight the people who still believe that women are not meant to lead. And that he wants no part of that.
And Clinton, rather than letting her people talk about Obama playing the race card, could say simply what we all know: that Barack Obama has had to overcome bigotry and prejudice to reach this point, and that we all know that racism still is rearing its ugly head.
Thus far neither campaign has done enough to fight racism and sexism. This is, of course, pragmatic: Clinton hopes to pick up the votes of racist Reagan Democrats, while Obama wouldn't mind picking up some votes from sexist Reagan Democrats. Both have reasons to cynically refuse to step up and do the right thing, to refuse to denounce and reject bigotry once and for all.
I understand why neither side is doing that. But I can't help but be deeply disappointed by it. As a white man who had a middle-class upbringing, I'm aware of how privileged the place is that I reside. I would like for everyone to get the benefit of the doubt that I have -- the basic assumption that one is competent, that one is stable, that one is hard-working, that one is simply the default. I have my crosses to bear, but I have never been belittled or demeaned for being a white man. And yet every African-American I know has stories of pure bigotry and bile, every woman I know has stories of being patronized and put down.
That is wrong. And if we are to change that, we must stand against bigotry in all its forms. Neither campaign has done that enough for my money. And the tit-for-tat, back-and-forth sniping we're seeing now is the bitter fruit of that poisoned ground. Obama faces sniping at his blackness, and Clinton sniping at her femaleness, because neither one was willing, months ago, to exorcise the bigots from their own camps. And so the sexists and the racists throw mud at each other. And the rest of us can only sigh, and shake our heads, and wish that our leaders would be leaders.