Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Jeremiah Wright, MLK, black theology & Obama (3)

Wow! I have five days of media extravaganzas to catch up on. OK, I need to retrace my steps to Saturday 25 April, when Jeremiah Wright appeared on Bill Moyers Journal.

First, for more background on black liberation theology, see:

Bill Moyers' Interview with James Cone, November 23, 2007.

Now, for the good stuff:

Bill Moyers' Interview with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, April 25, 2008.

Let us disassemble the ideological basis of this presentation step by step. First, we have a review, replete with video clips, of the course of Wright's career with his church, emphasizing the social services provided to the working class black community and political agitation against injustice. Then, we are introduced to Barack Obama, who began his association with Wright as a religious skeptic, with a purely pragmatic political motive to join up with Wright, but later allegedly becoming a religious believer. And then we are introduced to yet another ingredient: a clip of black children dressed in dashikis, with a voice-over indicating Wright's inculcation of allegiance to the "black value system" and and to black Americans' alleged African roots. And here is where the wool begins to be pulled over our eyes.

What is wrong with doing this in the current period, say 1989 or 1999 or next year in 2009 as opposed to 1969 or 1959? What is different about de facto segregation in post-apartheid America compared to the rigid segregation imposed by the state and civil society in the period during what we call the modern civil rights movement revved up in the '50s, reached a turning point with the landmark legislation of 1965, and mutated to a new level of militancy as the civil rights legislation failed to alter the intransigent economic and social institutions that kept black America down? Before the protean black power ideology came to the fore in the late '60s, any "black value system" that existed was not a metaphysical entity but a system of social arrangements imposed by white violence and black strategies of both adaptation and resistance given the conditions imposed. As such, the situation fostered the affirmation of both cultural particulars and universal values. This was the mental universe in which Martin Luther King, Jr. moved, with all the expansiveness and limitations that his historical moment embodied, to become a leader of a real movement and the symbolic representative of the greatest political expression of human dignity the world has ever seen.

The nebulous ideology of "Black power" also reflected a historical moment, and MLK grappled both with this mutation in the movement and the objective conditions that engendered it. On the 40th anniversary of his assassination, the media opened up to the point where the average person today could delve further into the depths of King's courage and greatness than the mainstream media would ordinarily foster on such occasions. Had King not been cut down in Memphis the day he readied himself to lay down his life for black garbagemen, he surely would have never been allowed to survive the Poor People's Campaign then in the planning stages. The Poor People's Campaign was not about the maintenance of a separate "black value system" but multiracial class warfare on the march to smash through the ghetto walls of economic, social, political, educational and cultural segregation, grinding them to dust beneath a blitzkrieg on institutional privilege and intransigence. In comparison to this, the prospective of black liberation theology is a petty-bourgeois piss-ant.

All the documentation of all the politicized black churches that provide social services cannot evade the essential duality of the role of petty bourgeois preachers who minister to the underprivileged. Their role is to firm up their power base and their position atop their power base, ideologically bolstered not merely by a rational rationale and function, but via an irrational and essentially authoritarian legitimation via religion turned provincial and nationalistic, which gives us black liberation theology.

Thus the "black community" and the "black value system" become metaphysical entities, and the black political preachers who survived King, whatever good works they do, have never risen and never will rise to his level but rather ideologically decay and ultimately stink once the historical moment that vivified them has passed and their mode of adaptation is drained of growth and life.

Stay tuned for more to come!

No comments: