Tuesday, March 18, 2008

“God Damn America” in Black and White

As we wait to hear Senator Obama's remarks today on the issue of race in the presidential campaign, I'd like to share with you an interesting article. Edward J. Blum, who is a professor of history at San Diego State University and the author of W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet (2007) and Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865-1898 (2005), has penned a useful essay for the History News Network that places the Jeremiah Wright controversy in a broader historical context. In part, he writes (emphasis added),

What is striking, historically, is that there is nothing new in Wright’s sermon and how often African American perspectives on so-called American Christian nationalism are ignored. It seems that each year, at least a handful of books come out trying to discern whether the United States was founded as a “Christian nation.” Most recently, this can be seen in Steven Waldman’s Liberating the Founders. But so often historians have approached the topic from the perspective of elite whites, and not the people who were building the nation from its foundation, hoeing the fields and raising the cotton, washing the clothes and preparing the meals. (One exception to this is David Howard-Pitney’s wonderful The African-American Jeremiad.) If we look closely at African American perspectives of Christian nationalism, we find Reverend Wright firmly in a long oppositional and rhetorical tradition.

I hope you will take the time to give the full article some consideration and share the link with others. If we are interested, we have an opportunity to have a deeper, more substantive discussion of race and faith... but only if we are willing to hear each other out and be compassionate about the different experiences of America that different groups have. This means, particularly, that white people need to be willing to listen to black people discuss their experiences and perspectives on America and that whites need to accept those experiences and perspectives as legitimate, even if they don't quite understand them, or share the sentiments themselves. To be sure, this will probably be a somewhat uncomfortable discussion, particularly for those whites that are largely ignorant of black experience, but it is essential if we are to find some higher (and common) ground...

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