Tuesday, April 29, 2008

White Americans and the Black Church

In studying what people know, here's one that's scratched its way to the top of the news pile: the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and how an attack on him is an attack on the black church. Here's one example of the sound bites that stirred up so much controversy.

I'm going to set aside the politics and talk instead about what white Americans know about the black church.

The answer? Not a helluva lot, I suspect. But, from what I've read and watched, I think most churchgoing white Americans know more about the black church than perhaps Wright does.


A number of black leaders and thinkers have said Wright misrepresents what the black church is, what it means, and especially they argue pastors do not stand in the pulpit spewing crackpot conspiracy theories about HIV or damning America. Wright's damage from his original comments sprayed across YouTube and cable news channels is made worse by his recent roadshow. Not politically. That's the problem of Obama and his handlers. I believe Wright has done significant damage to white America's impression of the traditional black church.

I wish I had survey data to back this up. There are some exit poll numbers from Pennsylvania that bring out some interesting issues about race, but none directly address impressions of "the black church." I hate that phrase, by the way, but Wright used it, so it's out there.

Clinton does better in a matchup against McCain than does Obama, among whites. This signals some movement, no doubt due to Wright.

But let's get away from the politics and back to what people know about the black church. No one has directly asked this ... yet. I hope to find it soon, because there has always been an unfortunately wary relationship between some predominately white churches and black churches. Wright's comments, being played over and over, will certainly among certain political conservatives lead to a very different view of "the black church" than perhaps they had a month ago. That view may have never been particularly negative, more warily neutral, but now I suspect what people know about the black church has changed, and not for the better. And that's too bad.


bethany said...

I'm doing a paper this semester about newspaper coverage of Wright/Obama and race/religion before the big speech for a class. I am learning my lesson about choosing a text that isn't done. My suspicion is that white america is comfortable with the black church when it is gospel music and having a dream, but not when it's angry or political. Wright's new comments are changing things, and I think really hurting Obama, which annoys me, as an Obama supporter.

Hollander said...

I just read a great piece in The New York Review of Books comparing the Lincoln and Obama race speeches. I'm fairly sure I saw it first online, but I read it only moments ago at Borders between grading papers.

Yeah, Wright is hurting Obama and giving loads of ammo to the GOP, both now and no doubt later should he be the nominee. Obama's support is fragile, so it'll only take a little to crack his coalition...or at least raise enough questions in the minds of enough voters to sink his campaign come Fall.

I think you're right about dreams and gospel music vs angry and political. Wright has become the poster child for the latter.