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Obamas Farrakhan - Jeremiah Wright Dilemma: Race, Religion and the Politics of Repudiation - Between The Lines By Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, PhD, Columnist

You know Barack Obama is getting close to being the Democratic Party’s Nominee (and the favorite to become the next President of the United States) when your opponents and the media begin to grasp for straws to undermine his candidacy. Last week, when Obama took the lead in the polls in Texas, the Clinton campaign announced its “kitchen-sink” strategy (stating they were going to throw everything at Barack, including the kitchen sink). The debate in Cleveland was supposed to be Hillary’s last stand, with Texas and Ohio being the firewall for that firestorm called, Obama-mania. The debate soon became a watershed moment as Obama was forced to acquiesce to racial perceptions of community and spiritual leaders that brought forth calls for repudiation. Meanwhile, John McCain had similar leaders make similar statements, without calls of repudiation. Who decides whose views are permanently intolerable and whose views can be periodically retractable? Last week demonstrated how the expanse of support and rejection goes according to race, religion and politics in America.

The tone of the latest Democratic debate changed quite quickly when Meet The Press’, Tim Russert, asked Obama about Minister Louis Farrakhan’s favorable analysis of Barack’s candidacy at the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviour’s Day Convention. While Minister Farrakhan’s statements were not an official endorsement, they implied the Minister clearly favored Obama’s candidacy. Russert and the mainstream media certainly took it as an endorsement. It would be a helluva endorsement to have, given Minister Farrakhan’s stature and influence among the poor and disenfranchised - the very segment in which Hilary Clinton was supposed to have an advantage. No single individual has done more, in the post-King era, to articulate, in a sustained way, the plight of the masses as has Minister Farrakhan. No individual, black or white, demonstrated the ability to mobilize Black America and get more than a million (closer to two - that number America will never acknowledge) to a march for spiritual atonement - the very thing of which America is sorely in need. Yet, all the good Minister Farrakhan has done in the last 25 years to rehabilitate ex-offenders, stop urban violence, build families and encourage personal responsibility went for naught, as Russert went to a statement Farrakhan had made 24 years ago that offended the Jewish community.

Based on that one statement, both Russert and Clinton (sensing an opening) called on Obama, not just to denounce AND reject Farrakhan statements but Farrakhan himself. Obama “conceded the point,” clearly an uncomfortable moment watching him get twisted on someone who has huge street cred in the black community. They then turned to Obama’s personal spiritual leader, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, and his association with Farrakhan as well as the church’s nationalist practices and suggested that Obama’s associations are “suspect.” Obama ignored calls to criticize Wright. Both Farrakhan and Wright have given non-hostile critiques of Judaism, and neither has advocated attack on Israel - yet both have been labeled “anti-Semitic” for their comments. However, the post debate commentary suggested that Obama was somehow connected to hate mongers and radicals, part of the “what do we really know Obama” fear campaign. Minister Farrakhan, who has seen it all before, issued a statement telling the public to affirm their support of Obama, despite his rejection of the Minister’s support - calling the whole inquiry “mischief making,” for the purposes of hurting Obama’s campaign. Clearly it was meant to pit supporters (Blacks and Jews) against each other - but at what point does what somebody has said in the past matter? And does repudiation mitigate what the candidate stands for (or against)?

Republican (near) nominee, John McCain, stated he would not repudiate and welcomed the endorsement of Rev. John Hagee, who has made some extremely hostile and volatile anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim statements in the past three years. There is a great difference in the expectation of how the media and the mainstream require black leaders and white leaders to reject those who may offend our religious and racial sensibilities.

Six years ago, in 2002, Mississippi Senator, Trent Lott, made racist statements at a retirement party for Strom Thurmond, suggesting that had more people supported the former segregationist’s “States Rights” Party in 1948 (as Mississippi did) “we wouldn’t have had all these problems” (inferring that the ensuing Civil Rights movement would have been somehow forestalled). Lott, the incoming Senate Majority Leader, was forcing to resign his leadership post, but then he was given the post of Senate Minority Whip last year. Oregon Senator, Gordon Smith, defended Lott’s remarks last year when Lott announced he was retiring in 2008. Smith called the remarks “big hearted warmness.” Yeah, for ugly days gone by. The media frequently refers to Farrakhan as racist, but Trent Lott has been referred to as a “Segregation Nostalgist.”

Lott represents the conservative right which McCain is desperately trying to secure. Though thoroughly discredited, McCain called Lott (in 2005) “the finest Majority Leader we’ve ever had.” Lott has campaigned for McCain several times in 2008. The point of raising the issue is to ask the question, who forgave Trent Lott for offending a whole race just a few years ago, and who withholds Farrakhan’s forgiveness for doing the same thing (offending a religion) a quarter century ago? It is inconsistent, at the least, to suggest that African Americans don’t have to same ability of what Dr. Cornel West called the day after the debate, “critical discernment” in separating the good a person does, and embracing it, from the bad a person does, and rejecting it.

Black America is often called upon to throw the whole baby out with the bath water, while whites can clean up their offenders and roll them back out with a renewed sense of support. Obama could have handled the question better, but since the media couldn’t find anything else to bite him on, they bit him on the Farrakhan question - waiting to see if he would gave them a reason not to trust him. Obama bit on the question, and guess what? Many still won’t (don’t) trust him. The politics of repudiation requires Blacks (black men, in particular) to reject anything that might be critical of race and religion in America. It’s a dilemma that Obama, and others, will have to overcome - that dual standard for who can be your friends, what is said to offend and how one repudiates support.

Then again, as you can see, it depends on who they offend and who’s doing the offending. Columnist Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the new book, Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is Click here to contact Dr. Samad.

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February 21, 2008
Issue 265

is published every Thursday

Executive Editor:
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Peter Gamble
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