Dr. Jeremiah Wright spoke at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA a few days ago. Some objected. A university should be able to invite any speaker on any subject because it’s a place where different points of view should be discussed and analyzed. Education should teach us how to think, not what to think. Listening is the best way to learn both how and what to think.
I’m not sure how we can express opinions about speakers unless we hear what they say. Hearing and reacting to snippets of a speech is one of the biggest problems critics have.
Dr. Wright preaches Black liberation sermons to enlighten oppressed people so we understand what America did to us. We’re not excused from trying to overcome the impact of racism, but it’s insane to take our cues from those who deny our humanity, then want to judge us by their standards.
No one else has lived our experience so they can’t know the impact years of racism continue to have on us. It’s easy for one who administers a beating to say, “Get over it.” Black people’ve been beaten down so intensely that many may never recover. Dr. Wright tells the painful truth about what America has done to us.
There’re many different methods for telling this truth. Dr. M. L. King and Malcolm X had different ways of teaching, yet both were effective. I don’t deny Dr. King because I prefer the way Malcolm X said something, and vice versa. I’ve listened to both and find something in each that helps me to maneuver around racism. Dr. Wright said and did things I didn’t like when the uproar about his God bless America… remarks came to light, but that doesn’t make everything he said wrong. I still find the good and praise it.
We listen to a lot of people who speak in public places. Many express racist views and are not stopped from speaking because freedom of speech is a fundamental right not one of us would give up. Through all the craziness, we’re charged with working together where we have agreement in order to advance our nation for the common good.
Problems occur when we judge others without understanding their history. How one says something often has a lot to do with the way it’s received. People’s guilt or ignorance won’t allow them to hear a speaker out, but that doesn’t mean the speaker is wrong. If we listen, we might find there’s some measure of truth even when we think it’s controversial.
Black liberation preachers say the message of Old Testament prophets—and Jesus Christ – is “a condemnation of the nation and of the religious establishment…for oppressing the poor.” Can we expect Black people to say “God bless America” for everything America’s done to us? Whites haven’t had our experiences and don’t know why we worship the way we do.
America’s come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. America is now taking a few steps back, but Black people still have the audacity to hope. We have a great and brilliant President who may not use Black liberation language—and look at the way he’s treated!
Truth isn’t always easy to hear. It’s not easy for a person who hasn’t known racism to hear someone say the opposite of God Bless America for the atrocities committed against Black people. Would we expect the Jews to say “God Bless Germany” for what was done to them? Put things in perspective. What a Black person says about racism doesn’t have to be validated by Whites, but I‘m grateful for the efforts that’ve brought us this far. Let’s get to work to perfect our union for all of us.
By Dr. E. Faye Williams
(E. Faye Williams is President of the National Congress of Black Women. www.nationalcongressbw.org.)