Barrack Obama delivered an impressive speech on Tuesday, March 18. The speech was motivated, in large part, by remarks made by Reverend Wright.
When the videos of Wright hit the news and the web, this created a moment of crisis that could have severely damaged Obama’s campaign. Faced with this crisis, Obama showed resolve and good judgment. He could have simply renounced his friendship with Wright and distanced himself from the remarks. Instead, Obama took the harder and more controversial path-he spoke out against his friend’s remarks without rejecting his friend.
While there will be debates about whether this was a good idea politically, there is also the question of whether it was the morally right thing to do or not.
It seems evident that Wright’s remarks were wrong. But, before passing judgment on a person, it is important to know more about that person and why they have said such things.
It is easy to judge and hate a person for what he says. Ugly words, the expression of prejudice and angry remarks can easily be seem as reflecting the true character of a person and thus be grounds for condemning and renouncing the person and not just his words.
But, before judging another, it is important to pause and consider why the words were said and whether they reflect the heart of the man-or merely his anger. Before such judgment is made, think on what you yourself might have said in moments of anger. Do those moments show your true self, what is really in your heart and mind? Have we not all spoken hateful words in anger that we later regret? Think of those moments and those failings before judging another.
But, can it not be said that such words reflect a person’s true heart and that what people say in anger is what they really believe? After all, it might be argued, in anger we often say what we would, in prudent good temper, never reveal. Thus, words spoken in anger might be the truest words of all.
In that case, more than the words must be considered. The full story of the person is what must be examined. Are those words a true reflection of the person’s life?
Good people can say terrible things, hateful things and wicked things. Good people have failings, lapses and bad moments. So, it is important to determine whether it is a case of a bad person expressing his true heart or a case in which a good person is saying terrible things. Or to be complete, maybe the person is neither good not bad.
In the case of Wright, Obama points to the man’s good works as evidence that he is a good man. He also explains the source of the words-anger that arose from his experiences as a black man in America.
Anger can lead people to say terrible things and there is much to be angry about. As Obama pointed out, racism has served to create anger, somewhat ironically, across racial lines.
He is right about this. In my own case, I’ve had to listen to charges of white privilege. I’ve had fellow academics tell me that my success was due to being a white male. I have been told that I am somehow responsible in some measure for injustice against women and minorities. Such remarks made me angry. I have worked hard to achieve my success and, although my life has not been extremely hard, it cannot be regarded as being easy. I have also consistently dedicated myself to doing what is right and just.
On some occasions, my anger almost got the better of me. I sometimes felt the urge to respond to such comments not in the calm manner befitting a philosopher, but by lashing out in anger at such stupid and thoughtless remarks by people who did not know me. At people who were passing judgment on me because…because of my race and gender. I have never yielded to that impulse, but that is because my anger is not that great and my rage is not that deep. I only have to endure such things in a limited manner and on rare occasions. But, it does give me something important-a small taste of anger and rage at such treatment.
Why is this important? As I see it, if those remarks made about white privilege get under my white skin, then what must it be like to face racism and sexism on a regular basis? I can only imagine the anger that would build up inside a person-even a good person.
As such, I can understand the anger of Wright and others. Like a person who has stepped on a tack imagining what it would be liked to be stabbed with a sword, I can imagine what it would be like to be subject to such racism. I can conceive of the anger that would build inside a person and how that anger could lead to wrongful words.
Like Obama, I disagree with Wright’s claims and regard them as wrong. But, imagining myself in his situation, I can understand why he would say such things. True, such things should not be said. But, also true is the fact that such words are partially the result of the terrible injustices of the past.
While condemning the remarks, we should try to understand where they arose from and take efforts to change our country so as to be rid of this anger. Someday, it can be hoped, we can live in a country without that sort of anger and what causes it.