Jeremiah Wright, House Divider

A short video of a rant by Barack Obama’s pastor Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright has been making the rounds in the right-wing blogosphere.* While Wright has been on the radar screen of many an Obama critic for months now, it’s rare that we get to hear him in his own words. And what ugly words they are.

It’s troubling at first considering that Wright trots out the kind of religious identity politics that racist cult leader Louis Farrakhan and the black religious left made famous, but it moves from disturbing to ludicrous when Wright compares Sen. Obama to other blacks to illustrate how “privileged” Hillary Clinton is. Despite Wright’s laundry list to the contrary, Obama is half-white, the family wasn’t poor — and for that matter the senator himself isn’t poor — and while Obama was raised in a single-parent household, his was a uniquely international, multiracial childhood — one in which, again, contra Wright, acceptance came more naturally. To hear Wright speak, however, it sounds like Obama grew up the son of a welfare mother in the projects.

While sadly amusing, this may also be the more racist, more divisive aspect of Wright’s rhetoric, since instead of embracing and endorsing Sen. Obama as a welcome bridge between races and generations, Wright employs his own one drop rule and vulgarizes Obama into a common black man victimized by rich white men. No respect is paid to the reality of Obama’s white mother and the white grandparents who raised him, nor does Wright seem cognizant of the modern American cultural milieu, which has progressed to the point where a “black president” is not only possible but, if the predictions hold, likely.

Overall, Wright’s speech is divisive and nasty, and if I were Barack Obama, “preaching” like the above, taken with the fact that Wright said of Louis Farrakhan,

His depth on analysis when it comes to the racial ills of this nation is astounding and eye opening. He brings a perspective that is helpful and honest.

and the fact that he further presented a “lifetime achievement” award to Farrakhan in late 2007

would be enough to drive me from Rev. Wright’s congregation. Not so with Sen. Obama, and his unwillingness to rebuke Wright — he merely says he doesn’t agree with all of Wright’s opinions — makes me think that the dream many have for a post-racial politics to emerge from the Obama candidacy is a false hope.

It further begs the question, who is the real Barack Obama?

Update:  Can you guess the uplifting phrase in Wright’s post-9/11 sermon?  How about “God damn America”?  Obama says this was just Wright trying to be provocative.  Pat Robertson’s PR guy better write this phrase down to use next time ol’ Pat opines on supposed Godly displeasure with His creations that leads to natural disasters.

* Liberals aren’t linking to it yet because they’re too busy complaining about McCain’s endorsement by Christian fundamentalist loon John Hagee. But John Hagee isn’t McCain’s pastor, and no amount of blogging by the left will prove that he holds sway over McCain the way Wright has influenced Obama.

Stereotypes with Chinese Characteristics

One classroom lecture that I’ve repeatedly used and refined during my time in China has been an exploration of student understandings of stereotypes and the propagation of stereotypes among the Chinese urban middle class. What stands out during the lesson is the degree to which some kinds of imagery — the Arab terrorist, the black athlete — have become so globalized that many Chinese sound exactly like their American counterparts when discussing people from different backgrounds.

I generally begin this lesson by defining the word stereotype and inviting students to offer stereotypes, positive and negative, of men and women. This makes things lively at the start, especially in classes with a strong mix of male and female students. From there we move on to stereotypes of people from different parts of China.

I asked the students to complete sentences such as the following:

  • Dongbei people are …
  • Beijing people are …
  • Hong Kong people are …
  • Xinjiang people are …

Not surprisingly, Dongbei people — in Tianjin at least — were painted in colorful but positive terms, but people in the capital were ripped on heavily, while those from Xinjiang came in for the most negative stereotypes (“monstrous,” “dangerous,” “terrorists”). This impression of Uighur people is worrying to me since, of all of China’s minority groups today, they have the greatest chance to face discrimination in society, and when stories like this one go flickering into the public consciousness, the stereotyping verges on becoming a permanent fixture in Chinese thought.

Returning to the lecture, one thing I added tonight was a group quasi-experiment in which the students were shown a series of photos and asked for their impressions. Since our reactions to the appearance of strangers can be influenced by the stereotypes we subscribe to, this was another way to gauge the prevalence of certain stereotypes among my students. That said, this wasn’t a truly scientific survey,* and I “rigged” things a bit when choosing the nine images shown in the collage below by making sure some photos were out-of-character for the person depicted:

stereotypes collage

These images are all famous people save one (the Sikh in the center left), and except perhaps for young Michael Jackson (top center), none of them are recognizable to most Chinese. What reactions did the students have?

  • Ted Bundy (top left): “intelligent,” “businessman,” “lawyer”
  • Michael Jackson (top center): “poor,” “good at sports”
  • Gov. Bobby Jindal and family (top right): “happy,” “Middle Eastern,” “not American”
  • Sikh man (center left): “Bin Laden,” “Arab,” “oil merchant,” “terrorist”
  • Kristen Kreuk (center): “model,” “actress,” “mixed”
  • Kim Jong-nam (center right): “rich,” “countryside person,” “taxi driver”
  • Augusto Pinochet (bottom left): “Nazi,” “strong man,” “Japanese”
  • Cindy McCain (bottom center): “businesswoman,” “serious,” “kind”
  • Bobby Bowden (bottom right): “government official,” “intelligent,” “European”

To analyze the responses a bit, I created this segment of the lecture expecting the Sikh to catch most of the negative comments, since Westerners also mistake Sikhs for Muslim fundamentalist Arabs and thereby transfer negative stereotypes from Arabs to Sikhs. Furthermore, I deliberately included a friendly-looking Ted Bundy, so as to further underscore the point of the dangers of stereotyping, and the students fell for my “trap.” The other results are across the board, and the reactions to Bobby Bowden and Kim Jong-nam made me laugh. Lastly, while liberals may be heartened by my students’ reaction to Pinochet, China throws a wrinkle into the mix because being Nazi-like is not always negative here.

But that’s a subject for another post.

* A scientific survey would probably involve individual testing and ask respondents to simply note whether they had good feelings or bad feelings about the person they were looking at.