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March 24, 2008

Obama, the Rev. Wright and the legacy of Emmett Till

Obamawright The recent uproar about Barack Obama’s former pastor has pushed a very explosive issue into the presidential campaign. The issue of our country’s history with regard to race is one that Sen. Obama literally embodies in his physical being as well as various political stances he has taken.

I’m responding to the attacks that he has endured because of the statements made by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama has pointed out the failures our nation has made in trying to live up to the words in the Declaration of Independence that state that "all men are created equal." I am mentioning these events to give a more complete background to the Rev. Wright’s comments from his pulpit.

From his perspective, America is not always able to deliver on some very important issues, and the effect on him over time is to become enraged and at times to overreact. The wonderful thing about life in America is that we can address and remedy even the worst of problems when the collective will of our nation comes into play. The civil rights movement would never have achieved what it did if this were not true. That potential gives us the hope that Sen. Obama so articulately identifies as the force that can bring us together to effect positive change. I, for one, hope that people will unite and work together to make sure that the unfortunate events of the past do not kill the positive potential of our future. Together we can make the dreams of the Founding Fathers a reality for all Americans.

An example of this situation can be seen in the mess that developed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck. Racist policies that were in place in the 1920s and '30s caused a hugely disproportionate share of grief to fall on the shoulders of the black residents of New Orleans. The decision to build homes in an area that is 12 to 15 feet below sea level, immediately adjacent to a lake and also located on a shoreline that sees hurricanes every hurricane season, could only be seen as wishful thinking. This disaster was bound to happen whenever a hurricane hit the coastline somewhere near New Orleans. A direct hit wasn’t even needed to inflict damage.

Emmitt till and his mother

The incompetence and unpreparedness of the authorities who were supposed to do something about the disaster were seen by blacks as racism pure and simple. But actually the folks at FEMA were trying to straighten out a situation created by racist policies put in place 80 or 90 years ago. Again and again these situations rear up and bite us all and create more bitterness and distrust between different sectors of Americans.

The Rev. Wright suggested in one of his sermons that AIDS was intentionally allowed to infect people because it would probably do most of its damage in the black community. White Americans see this viewpoint as racist paranoia. But black Americans remember the Tuskegee experiment, when black men who had syphilis were left untreated intentionally so the progress of the disease could be studied by government doctors. This actually happened, and its memory has caused a collective distrust of doctors in the black community for which white Americans cannot see any rational basis. Again we are stuck with dealing with the evil deeds that were done before many of us were born.

Many of those situations were created by the response of the people of the old Confederacy who used the law to attempt to permanently ensure that blacks would never be able to achieve equal treatment in any of the Southern states. The failure of Reconstruction to secure the human and civil rights of black Americans is the real problem at the root of the lingering racial tension in America. Southern citizens wanted to make sure that no black person could rise up from the poverty and ignorance that had been imposed on them from the days of slavery. Violence was a key component in enforcing the Jim Crow laws. Between 1889 and 1918, 2,522 blacks were lynched in America, and nothing was done about it. I can remember [ed note: warning, gruesome]  the picture of Emmitt Till, who was murdered in 1955. There was a trial of those accused of the killing, but an all-white jury acquitted the accused in very short order.

The people of Mississippi were very defiant in stating how sure they were that the accused would be found "innocent," which was what happened. Soon after the verdict came in, the murderer sold an article to Look magazine that gave the details of the kidnapping, torture and death of Emmitt Till. The white people of Mississippi had nothing to say at that point, and the rest of America seemed to shrug off the results as a quaint episode of Southern life. Contrast that scenario with the response to the murder of Nicole Simpson. When you do that you will get a sense of why black Americans are so paranoid about the actual reality of equal protection under the law. Just last week the Supreme Court threw out the conviction of a black man who lost his case in court because the prosecutor succeeded in his plan to eliminate all blacks from the jury. The O.J. trial was mentioned during the time the case was in front of the jury.

White Americans could not consider the reality of police brutality against blacks. It took the Rodney King incident to start any real change in attitudes on that subject. If Rodney King had tried to accuse the cops who beat him of brutality, he would have gotten nowhere. He was, after all, a large black man with a criminal record who was undoubtedly breaking the law. No white jurors would consider taking his word over the testimony of the cops. The only thing that changed the situation was an undeniable videotape that proved to anyone with any common sense that the beating was way beyond a routine traffic stop. It doesn’t surprise black Americans that DNA testing has uncovered dozens of unjustly convicted black prisoners. The faulty eyewitness testimony that figured so prominently in the conviction of these men is another symptom of racial divide. White jurors are too often comfortable with doubtful testimony if the accused is black. Prosecutors can make their careers by keeping those dangerous black thugs off the streets. Justice falls by the wayside in far too many cases.

Undoubtedly, black Americans have had the worst time of any ethnic group in trying to benefit from that concept. The vitriol in the Rev. Wright’s words is a direct result of what he sees when he reviews how that has played out throughout the history of this country. This is not to say that there has been no progress made in those situations, but sadly that progress has been too often slow and grudgingly acquired. Because of the nature of the problems, which in many cases were started in the 19th century, Americans in this day and age have to pay for issues that they didn’t cause and shouldn’t have to fix. But nonetheless we are stuck with the tab.

Photos, from top: Sen. Obama and Rev. Wright; credit: Trinity United Church of Christ and Associated Press. Emmitt Till and his mother, Mamie Bradley; credit: Chicago Tribune.


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Jon K.

One cannot effectively move forward if one is always looking backwards.



I am so glad that you summed this up so well. I am Black and tried to explain the comments from Rev. Wright to my co-workers and they could not understand. I am going to forward this on to them. Lots of (younger, 40 and under) White Americans feel as if they have grown up in a post-racist America and cannot understand why Black people are angry and mistrusting of the government and the justice system. I feel that your thoughts on the issue explains not only the root of the problem but the continued problems that exist.



Those who don't know their past are doomed to repeat it.


Kareem, I appreciate your perspective on this, and I'm not going to suggest it's incorrect or invalid by any means. But you're way, way off on New Orleans. The areas hardest hit by the flood that resulted from the failures of the levees were populated by both black and white people. There was no disproportionate flooding, and moreover, Gentilly, one of the predominately black neighborhoods that flooded badly, was almost all white 50 years ago.

The response to the flooding was where racism came into play, and it was probably more about party politics and @ss-covering than anything else.

I like Senator Obama, and I think he'd probably be a good president. Having grown up in the South, I'm not under the impression that racism is dead, or that it's not a problem. I understand that the institutional racism of the last 300 years can't be overcome completely within a few scant generations.

That said, some of the things that Pastor Wright said are simply wrong, and need to be confronted directly. It's the same thing I said when certain right-wing Evangelical pastors made the news in the aftermath of the attacks on 9/11/01. I think Senator Obama did an admirable job in his speech on the issue, but I wish he'd been more specific, and identified the things that Pastor Wright said with which he disagreed.

Because while I can understand the lingering resentment and anger from a legacy of slavery and the utter failure of reconstruction, I don't understand why some folks believe that the US government introduced crack cocaine into the black community. I don't understand why some folks think the government is behind AIDS, or why some of my very neighbors believe that a flood-wall was blown up in order to drown the lower 9th.

These are the things that I wish we could address directly, and in the spirit of Senator Obama's speech.

Leigh Cohn

As a white American, albeit one who has taught in inner city high schools, I appreciate your putting a historical perspective on this. Blacks and whites alike--not to mention other races, religious groups, and ethnicities--need to confront injustice and inequality. Electing Obama would sure help in that regard!

Abogada Adelante

"God Forgive America" is a bumper sticker given to me by my sons' grandfather, though intended for Iraq, it is suitable here! It is difficult to look at the photo of Emmitt Till's hanging without feeling overwhelmed. Numerous historical accounts suppport your position. Senator Bacon from Macon, Georgia who donated his estate for a public park so long as Blacks were excluded is only one example.Racial profiling supports the excessive incarceration of our Nation's youth creating a huge disadvantage for these individuals to succeed. Sentencing disparities insures a longer sentence. Much of it victimless crimes that are easily alleviated with education, a living wage,job security and sports programs. It is upon every person of every class, race, ethnicity and gender to ensure that the constitutional
guarantees and the pursuit of happiness is equally applied. It is understood that education, job security and a living wage is increasingly difficult for most Americans to obatain. Payday lending, credit cards and student loan debts the size of mortgages are the norm. Hitory tells us that the continuing disparities will not be alleviated by the present administration. That an incompent was appointed to head FEMA, an agency unknowingly slipped under Homeland Security, a fear mongering law enforcemnt conglomerate that has yet to succeed in many of its assigned duties should be of concern to all.

lee beckom

Teach, Kareema. Good comments.
Thanks. Lee B


Obama's speech sealed the deal for me.

Anyone who could speak so eloquently about race in America deserves a chance to improve America.

Of course the situation is complicated, and even though Obama summarized it in clear language, the complexity is such that of course many people do not grasp it.

Or, some do not want to grasp it. They wish to see things only in (unfortunate pun here) black or white, as that is the only way their brains can process the world around them. (Conjecture away about the sizes of their brains: pea, or grape-sized?)

The situation is too nuanced that the speech flies over these people's brains. Their brains aching, they then turn to YouTube and watch what others want them to watch, in 20 second bites.

They think YouTube is free speech, yet they don't realize it's just free-for-all propaganda for anyone who can convert video files and upload to YouTube.

Kareem's analysis is brilliant. Thank you. It is too bad too many Americans cannot sit still for 45 minutes and listen to the whole Obama speech. This is unfortunately the biggest impediment to Obama's message of unity and understanding.


Very well stated. I remember being younger, and watching Eyes on the Prize with my father, and the story of Emmitt Till, and particularly the picture, never left my mind.


Obama threw his grandma under the bus in front of the whole world. The consciousness behind that act is cold, scary and unforgivable.

Jon R.

Forgiveness is a virtue, and moving forward is the only way to achieve progress. But we should always look back, and we should NEVER forget. To do so is to invite the same things to happen again.



Your regret that we are the ones left with the tab is fine writing.

You being Kareem, with 25 plus years of dedication on the court in the national limelight, perhaps your words can carry.

In the spirit of dialogue, I would point out that what those who oppose the talk of race seem to need to see and hear, every time, is:
a) black leaders support for black self help
b) statements that hip hop culture is self-defeating
c) recognition of US leadership in democracy and market economy has made US blacks the richest major population of African descent, outpacing Africa, the Carribean, and Latin America

My sense is that the Americans you need to win to unite will be much more open if you hit these themes.

America's silent majority will be much, much more open to accepting that justifiable anger is there when they see that the observer is not just hitting the convenient facts to denigrate White Americans, but also those facts that celebrate White Americans.

Rush and Jesse enrich themselves on the caricature of ---almost always -- pointing out the other races flaws.

If we are to move beyond them, become more perfect, we need to have the human decency to proactively laud each others positives, and then the integrity to state our honest desires for continued change.

White partialists seek to point broad thinking whites as driven by guilt. To simplistic. I'd like to think I am driven by the integrit, of trying to work from an honest accounting of postives and negatives in any human situation.

I do find that the conservatives are right, that modern blacks relative wealth compared to the world scene, and access to American democracy, is worth celebrating and remembering. Hip hop would be fine if, like George Carlin's comedy, it were just restricted to the practioner it enriches. It is a fine and provocative art form; it is a horrible basis for broader culture and human development.

We can and should acknowledge these things.

Aminah Yaquin Carroll

As slaamu aleikum Bro. Terrific article. i am middleaged white woman 9former community organizer NYC) and agree with everything you wrote


Excellent article Kareem.

What people need to realize is that the reverand said what many say in barber shops around the country, and its been said since I remember being in barber shops. When "we" get together and feel comfortable in our surroundings, we signify. The reverand was signifying. He was not attempting to start a riot or a race war. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson made disparaging remarks about American citizens and policies after 9/11, yet you do not see there soundbites on Hannity and Colmes.

If Americans allow the words of others to effect who they vote for and trust, then we will never progress. Not to say that Obama is the "savior" but he is a gleam of hope.

People often try to bring down discussion about race because they think everything became equal in 1965. All one has to do is look at inner city schools and see that nothing is equal. People may be able to use the same restrooms and drink from the same fountains, but when grade school begins, they are swimming in different waters.


"One cannot effectively move forward if one is always looking backwards."

Posted by: Jon K.


If one does not know their history, then they are doomed to repeat it. See: the history of Japan in the early 20th century prior to WWII and current foriegn policy towards China.

Rodney Hurst

Great article! Very incisive. Your analysis is on point.

Tully Moxness

Quite a few commentators black and white had been waiting for Senator Obama to really "say something" throughout his campaign. Well he said something all right. In one of the greatest speeches given by a political candidate since Abraham Lincoln he won the hearts and minds of anyone black or white who could sit still for 45 minutes, as Jim commented above. I can only add to what Jim put so well by saying that this country will deserve what it gets as it has for the last two terms if they are unwilling to say as Senator Obama put it ' Not this time".


Kareem you basically said everything I wanted to say and didn't know how to express it without coming off "Too Black, Too Strong." So many times we find ourselves walking the thin line of being black in America and in the same breath totally misunderstood. Our comments are taking out of context so often and misconstrude throught the media. We need a voice, no voices that are again not afraid to take a stand.

Thank you so very much for taking the time to address this issue and handling it so well.


Well written and thoughtful. No easy answers, but a shared understanding of the past is a better starting place than a your-wrong vs my-wrong argument about history. How to move forward? As you noted, the past already happened and is beyond our control, but we certainly can impact the future. Unfortunately, actionable proposals are hard to identify and implement. Obama's focus on the future is part of his appeal to many young voters, who have limited direct experience with the past. His (and everyone's) challenge is to convert that inspiring poetry into the prose of action. For understanding a problem is not the same as solving it.


At least there's no disputing that Obama is Christian now.

I am continually amazed at the things conservatives bring up to slander their opposition.

They served one up for Obama, and he hit it out of the park with his speech last week. Yet it doesn't seem to be getting through their thick heads. i.e. 'typical White person'.

I can't tell you how much it'll hurt if McCain wins this thing. I mean, half of this country voted twice for George Bush, swayed by what Bill Richardson eloquently called, "gutter politics" yesterday.

Great post Kareem. The picture of Emmitt Till is horrendous, it really puts things into perspective. Especially when you compare the reaction with the Nicole and OJ Simpson ordeal. That post should be in the newspaper for everyone to see.

Tully Moxness

Jon K,

I love your work on the LakersBlog, but you did Kareem a disservice by essentially responding to his lengthy, well-reasoned post with a one line aphorism that doesn't even fit as a criticism. I agree that it is a mistake to allow the past to become an albatross around your neck, but you must not ever forget the sins, failures and outright blunders that have taken place. To say that to forget the past dooms one to repeat it is almost a cliche by now, but you cannot discount the importance of an accurate understanding of the lessons history teaches us.

As a person of latin descent, I see the effect that cultural issues from 50 years ago still have on my family members who live in East LA. The breakdown in family structures caused by rapid and distant immigration lead to their replacement by gangs, both on the street and in prison. I don't excuse the mistakes made by my brothers and cousins, but that doesn't mean I can't analyze the underlying issues that brought those mistakes about.

I would suggest that anyone who has allowed the media coverage of Rev. Wright's comments to sway their opinions should actually watch as many of his full sermons as possible. The 'chickens coming home to roost' comment? It was in the context of Malcolm X's controversial comments in the aftermath of the JFK assassination, ones that ultimately caused his final break with Elijah Muhammad. Before dismissing him as a crank or demagogue, listen to what he has to say without hearing it in a packaged soundbite designed to elicit an emotional response. You may find your opinion has changed about him.

This is a great country, but it is far from perfect; we achieved much of our length and breadth by swimming in a sea of blood, one that flowed from the backs of enslaved Africans, from the bodies of the Mexicans who we brutally fought in the name of Manifest Destiny and from the destruction of entire nations of indigenous people who we consistently gave hollow promises to that more often than not were broken before the ink dried on the treaties we signed. I have Japanese-American friends who grew up without fathers and brothers, because they committed suicide after losing their homes, businesses and honor after being sent to internment camps for sharing a homeland with whom we were at war; did you ever wonder why we never created the same camps for German-Americans and Italian-Americans? I don't hate our country for committing these sins, but I swell up with anger when a person ignorant of these historical sins calls me un-American for trying to take an honest accounting of them.

Discussing the history of this country is not a zero-sum game; we can forgive without forgetting. Senator Obama spoke about the complexity of the issue with a grace I've never heard from a major politician; he acknowledged that the problems or race and economics are too challenging to be solved in one election cycle. However, he also pointed out that we can move forward from our current state but to do that requires a healthy and honest discussion of the issues surrounding it. I hope he's the one who leads the discussion.

Tully Moxness


Actually, YouTube is a pretty good example of the greatness and perils of free speech. You'll find the entire Obama speech there along with numerous cut and paste jobs designed to mislead people. It's the equivalent of one man standing on a street corner reading the entire Bible while another picks and chooses certain verses that suit his 'The End is Nigh' agenda. Free speech doesn't mean Good speech, although we couldn't have the latter without the former. It's up to the viewer of those YouTube clips to understand the context and who uploaded them, and sadly, a lot of people will not use their noggins to do so.


Thank you Kareem - as always a thoughtful and considered response to events and ideas that make this blog quite an important offering from the LA Times.

My great concern is that while some may think Rev. Wright's speech is somehow incidiary, that argument is really only an aspect of political correctness gone awry. Had Rev. Wright breached the allowable limits of 1st amendment free speech, that would be different.

I grew up in an activist, white suburban congregation in Pasadena (All Saints Episcopal) whose Rev. George Regas was and still is a strong opponent of war. His trials and tribulations of his outspoken ministry during the Vietnam War were often reported as anti-American and against the US soldiers who fought in that war. His own congregation, a mixture of conservatives and progressives debated these positions every Sunday in forums following services. In the last election, the church was targeted by the IRS for a sermon the retired Rev. Regas made about the choices in the 2004 election.

All of this speaks to political correctness run amok. How do we as Americans expect to engage in meaningful dialogue and the sharing of ideas that are prerequisite to making America better and stronger if we are caught up in debating the dialogue that speaks to feelings that exist in our culture and not the ideas we should be focused on?

I think Sen. Obama is doing his best to navigate this path because he recognizes it's importance. What continues to inspire me is that his message is resonating within our country. If it didn't, that would be a frightening indication that the purveyors of political correctness and personal morality were winning their battle against the true promise of America.

We need to continue active dialogue to support the formulation of thoughtful ideas and turn that into policy.

Bert Kleinkauf

You state with eloquence the black perspective. Thank you. Perspective leads to understanding. Understanding to empathy. It is a sad fact indeed that majorities seldom make an effort to understand minority perspectives.
Yet there’s more here than just the need to understand, to excuse Reverend Wright’s hyperbole. Lost in the uproar is Reverend Wright’s context, the justifiable condemnation of racial inequalities resulting from governmental policies. Lost is the correct linking of the 9/11 horror to America’s Middle East policies. Reverend Wright’s arguments have merit: America should be ashamed of racial injustice; America shouldn’t be surprised when its foreign policies foment anger, anger that spills onto our shores. The fact that most Americans choose not to see that merit is troubling indeed as understanding is essential to remedy.
Many argue that Reverend Wright is un-American, his comments an outrage. I suspect many exaggerate their concern, using it to justify their opposition to Barack Obama.
Rev. Jerry Falwell blamed feminists, gays and lesbians (and the A.C.L.U.) for 9/11. Rev. Pat Robertson blamed the Supreme Court. Their arguments are absurd. Nothing links their accused to the tragedy except for their personal bigotries and their belief that God thinks like they do. There is no defense for their positions. Yet where is the outrage when Republican politicians curry their endorsement.
I suspect Reverend Wright is a fine American, an American I would be proud to call my pastor, my friend. I suspect that he has been defamed by politics as usual. I reject the politics of fear. I reject veiled bigotry. We must learn from the past so we can better perfect the future. I’m more than ever ready to follow Barack Obama’s lead: yes, we can.
Bert Kleinkauf
(UCLA ’69)


Wow, nicely done

Victor omo Agege

Greetings and respect to the Sky Cap. For the record I am a fan and respected your willingness to take a stand politically when a lot of ball players passed. Cap I dont disagree with a lot of statements in your blog, but I disagree with any defense for Rev Wright by any one for the Clinton Bashing from the pulpilt . Rev Wright crossed the line when he decided to campaign from the pulpit ,the only campaign from the pulpit should be for Christ or the man above.
I have no problem with the God Damn America comment . I can relate to the anger . However, as a black man I thank God for given me the knowledge to understand that the civil rights movement was not strictly black . White people,abolitionist and other races marched and put their lives on the line for whats right and that how I call it .If its wrong it has no colour, its wrong ...and if its right ITS RIGHT.
When you are caught speeding ,the defense is not what about the other guys speeding . Enough of all the Revs that do the same thing ,or its common in the black church . Rev Wright crossed the line period .........GOD DAMN THAT AMERICA THAT LYNCHED, ENSLAVED MY PEOPLE , RAPED AND STOLE FROM THE INDIANS . GOD BLESS AMERICA , PLEASE BLESS AMERICA THAT WE PRESENTLY STRIVE FOR .. WHERE ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL AND JUDGED BY THE CONTENT OF THEIR CHARACTER AND NOT THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN ....



I am disappointed with, but not surprised by your position. I have observed that many black Americans are in denial about their own failings and blame whites, slavery, racism, and America for not taking personal responsibility for making poor life decisions and for socially bad behavior.

Rev. Wright is a flat-out bigot, no different from the white racists supposedly responsible for his hostility and anger. He is also deeply misguided in his views. I find it disturbing that he gets a pass (excuse) from you. Wright's views are commonly held beliefs shared in black churches and barbershops and he preaches and panders this hatred in a condescending way to his flock. Even if Obama distances himself from this rhetoric and publicly denounces it, one must wonder if the man who may lead our nation holds these kinds of beliefs from his spiritual advisor of 20 years. This is why Wright's sermons are relevent in Obama's campaign. Faith is more powerful than logic or reason.

Your examples are deeply flawed and demonstrates what many American blacks suffer from: the inability to distinguish cold facts from racisim. So polarized and hypersensitive to race, blacks prefer to believe that the white man and indeed America have it out for them. Katrina was not proof that racial policies set-up blacks for being victims of a terrible natural disaster. How about this:
Nearly 51 percent of the people who died in the 2005 storm were white, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. About 46 percent of the 825 deaths attributed directly to that Category 3 hurricane were black. Hispanics, Asians and American Indians made up the remaining deaths.
"The initial belief by a lot of folks that minorities were impacted to a greater extent turned out not to be the case," said Bob Johannessen, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.
Many blacks compunded their own fate by disregarding warnings and being too personally disorganized and irresponsible for government assistance to really benefit them. Of course the brilliant Kanye West knows the "truth" - "George Bush doesn't care about black people". Sheesh!

The Tuskegee Experiment is a tragic event and should be continued to be regarded with indignity and shame. But get this - the reason we know about it is precisely becuase it was wrong. In an era when it would have been so easy to keep this "conspiracy" secret forever, it was exposed. However, medical experimentation on groups of white subjects are not unusual either, for example:
In experiments designed to test the effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), the Government of the United States treated thousands of its citizens as though they were laboratory animals, dosing them with this dangerous drug without their consent. One of the victims, James B. Stanley, seeks compensation from the Government officials who injured him. The Court holds that the Constitution provides him with no remedy, solely because his injuries were inflicted while he performed his duties in the Nation's Armed Forces. There are many cases of white servicemen exposed to harmful levels of radiation for experiments where the victims were not informed of the experiment or consequences:
1931 - Dr. Cornelius Rhoads, under the auspices of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Investigations, infects human subjects with cancer cells. He later goes on to establish the U.S. Army Biological Warfare facilities in Maryland, Utah, and Panama, and is named to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. While there, he begins a series of radiation exposure experiments on American soldiers and civilian hospital patients.

None of these examples should diminish Tuskegee, but to treat Tuskegee as the be-all, end-all of the American goverment atrocities towards blacks is misguided. For Wright to spread the absurdity of AIDS being inevented and injected into blacks as a covert genocide by the government without any shred of evidence combined with the sheer illogic is morally wrong when he is in a position of trust. Does Obama also believe this lie?

Lynchings were a terrible form of street justice in our nation's history. They did disproportionately target blacks in an era of greater racial hostility and ignorance. However, whites were victims of lynchings too - representing 27% of all lynchings from 1882-1968. From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States, 72% were black victims. Lynchings were carried out for offences ranging from simple assault, to buglary, to rape, to murder. American blacks even during this period were responsilble for a disproportionate volume of violent crime and this is never mentioned as a factor. It has been become an urban legend that lychings were reserved only for blacks and were entirely racist in motive, as many of the cases were. But let's keep this in perspective - lynchings are part of the past and Americans of all colors by and large feel deep shame and sorrow and have learned from this. This however, does not excuse that they happened, but they should not be used as an excuse for misdirected anger in 2008.

Rodney King is a another terrible example. He represents what white Americans resent about some black Americans. A thug, an ignorant, irresponsible, hostile, violent thug. Unfortunately, there are a lot of other Rodney Kings out there perpetrating crimes. American blacks commit a far disproportionate volume of violent crime in America - 51% of all homicides between 1974-2004 were commited by blacks who respresent just 13% of the population. Similar figues are found for rape and other violent offences. Whites know it and are afraid to say it outloud fearing being called a "racist". Blacks know it too, but are in complete denial, and in some cases embrace it with the gangsta rap culture. If those officers who stopped King were so racist and beat King just because he was black as his defenders allege, then why were the two other black occupants in King's vehicle unharmed? Racist white officer mentality: "beat 3 for 1 traffic stop!". King was beaten (excessively) not because he was black, but because he wanted to be a thug. DNA testing has also resulted in the release of white prisoners too, but none of these cases proove 100% that the prisoner was totally not responsible for the crime, most times it simply cast enough doubt on the conviction to not keep them behind bars - another bad example to use.

The bottom line is stop making excuses for bad behavior, personal irresponsibility, and misguided accusations on the past. Racism will not stop any black American who wants to work hard on their own to succeed. Kareem - you are also proof of this! Nobody gave you what you earned for yourself. Unfortunately, we will not have an honest dialogue about race in 2008 because the fear of having to sacrifice, work hard, and push away peer and group pressure to be "authentic" is too great - and by the fear of publicly saying such and being called a racist.

Rev. Wright would elevate his followers and Obama too if he was CONSISTENTLY preaching with the same vigor and emotion against dependency on government handouts, the condescending mental "enslavement" of blacks by the Democratic Party, and having children out of wedlock - and focus more on having fathers in the house, TWO parents being actively involved with their children's education, getting school vouchers, dropping "ebonics", and halting the thug culture. He should be inviting Bill Cosby to visit and share these same sentiments instead of going to Africa with Farrakhan. But then again, the black victicrat element would leave his congregation, shut him off, and threaten his tax-exempt status. Denial is not a river in Egypt.

Joni H

Thank you Kareem. Your intelligent, thoughtful posts enlighten us, your readers.


Hi Jeff - I think you missed the mark here with this post. Kareem mentioned the racism that existed in the 1920's and 30's, not now. And Kareem goes on, talking about the past, which results are affecting America today. And it is a fact that black people had a really hard time in the past. Things are different now, however not for everyone. Some are still paying for past mistakes.

It is in fact really good to have such legend to talk about those things and remind us of past mistakes so we don't repeat them in the future.

Jon K.

Fidel and Susan,

Read what I said. I did not say that a person or a people shouldn't know their history, merely that they should not obsess upon it.

Mike in the Mountain West


A few points.

First, you seem to want to paper over the racist legacy of America's past. To try to diminish the racism of most lynchings by pointing out that ONLY 76% of victims were black is just ludicrous.

You ignore the complexity of race in America. Is there a damaging and negative element in some of hip-hop culture? Yes. But to ignore the legacy of racism and the current racism in America as a cause for some of the issues facing some black Americans is simple minded.

Many people on both sides of these issues tell themselves nice, neat, and tidy stories about what ails the black community and how to solve it. Many people don't want to deal with hard and complex problems so convincing themselves it's all the other sides fault relieves them of both responsibility and guilt.

What gives me hope is my generation. I'm 27. My generation is the least hampered (note the use of the word LEAST) by battles around race and identity. Your viewpoint, already a minority, will soon be completely marginilized. Hip-hop doesn't scare young white americans because we like it and understand it. Instead of lecturing poor black people that they should take responsibility we (black, white, asian, latino) recognize that lack of educational opportunity perpetuates poverty so we start charter schools and teach in rural and poor areas. We're pragmatists not idealogues.

The future belongs to us, not you.


Kareem has mastered the art of the essay. In the interest of brevity, he barely scratches the surface.

Less than 3 weeks ago, this paper printed a story about the incarceration rate in America having risen to one per cent of the population. For young black males, it's closer to 11 per cent.

Some may see a positive side to this. Florida law disenfranchises anyone with a past felony conviction. In 2000 they hired a private contractor to purge their voter rolls, and feigned ignorance while thousands of non-felons, mostly black, were improperly removed.

A generation ago, Bill Bradley gave a speech on the Senate floor on the subject of race relations. The Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas may have been the motivation. Or maybe it was a delayed response to the Willie Horton campaign commercials a few years earlier. It's worth reading again as a book end to Obama's speech. A transcript is available here:


There are a lot of good comments here, made by people who clearly get it. Some commenters seem less enlightened. Those few might benefit from reading "The Sneetches", by Dr. Seuss. And keep reading it until it sinks in.

john marzan

If this happened to McCain, where it was discovered that he had a 20 yr relationship with a radical, racist minister like john hagee, you would condemn mccain for it, kareem, and he wouldn't be the GOP nominee today. his political career would be dead and buried by now, and not going strong at mccain's age of 71.

so obama finally got caught, and what did he do? invoke white guilt, use moral equivalency to throw his white grandmother under the bus.

but racism wasn't the real issue here, because i don't think obama's a racist. it is one of judgment.

at least oprah left the trinity church a long time ago. judgment people, judgment.//

Eddie Barker

Kareem for Vice President!

Jibreel Riley

I'm black and there is no way for me to hide that in public however I shill never used that as a barrier in how I chose to live my life. In a nut shell I've moved on from the past that was written in blood for All Americans. Why blacks fell the need to harp on old racial scores is what troubles me today. I'm only 27 however I know American History from being self taught and other races and religions have been discriminated against however its blacks that dose not move on from the past. Its one of the main reason why so many blacks vote Democratic because they see the sense of entitlement programs that are needed however overlooking how they have destroyed the black community from with in.
You see the sharp contrast when you look at modern immigrants to America (legal and Illegal). Look at the Illegal Immigrants: all they want is citizenship. Black still want the Government (local, state and federal) to engage in a naked socialism and if you look at Democrat run cities in America, these are your most dangerous places to live. Social ills run ramped however civics are taught so poorly these days most people think all power comes from Washington DC than from you local city hall or state house.
If Black people let other black people to make excuse for them such as Rev. Jeremiah Wright, I hope all of them are learning how to speak Spanish.

complex brotha

Very insightful and intelligently written posts, Kudos!!!! Even Jeff, which whom I wholeheartedly disagree with, articulatedly his thoughts and perspective in such a way, I understood WHY he thinks and feels the way he does regarding this.

Kareem's article to me is simply brilliant!!! As far as the statiscal breakdown of imprisioned black men, I offer this tidbit. For over 40 years, America's Highest Law Enforcement official ( at that time) Head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover was not only racist, but openly attacked gays, although he himself was homosexual, so to me, conventional wisdom dictates, If the "Top Dog" is a morally corrupt person responsible for implementing and enforcing laws for an entire Nation, would it be so "out of the norm" to suggest the playing field isnt leveled when discussing the justice system as it pertains to low income americans? I just wanted to toss that out there.

As far as the Politics go, Obama has my support NOT because he's Black, but because given the choices, I believe he's best suited for leading this nation simply because I do feel he's "Of and For" the People. McCain scares the living #@&T out of me. Nothing scarier than a Commander in Chief that doesnt know our countries allies from our foes. Clinton, although I had a huge amount of respect for, I sense is "too" Washington, "too" business as usual and straight out, just comes across as a liar who will say whatever it takes to achieve personal goals.

In order to even begin to "try" an reverse the damage done by race relations in this country, we need intelligent YOUNG americans of ALL races to GET INVOLVED!!! Research the facts, dont just go off a Fox news soundbite. Notice how 6-7 years ago, "middle america" was all driving around in their mini vans and SUV's with those big stupid "W"' stickers in the rear window? Dont see too many of them now huh? W has effectively ran this country into the ground in pretty much the same manner he did in his "Pre" political business dealings. Funny how in the last 8 years only the Oil companies and Halliburton have much to show for it???



Hip Hop has done more to unify young people than anything since the 1960's. That's right, we are the new Hippie culture redefined. And people like you don't understand it, and thus hate it and blame it for the ills of society. When in reality, it's not the culture that is the problem, but the realities that the culture is faced with that is the true problem. Just like in the 60's.

"Unfortunately, we will not have an honest dialogue about race in 2008 because the fear of having to sacrifice, work hard, and push away peer and group pressure to be "authentic" is too great - and by the fear of publicly saying such and being called a racist."-Jeff

Pessimism and fear are exactly what we don't want. I think we will have an honest dialogue about race because we want to sacrifice and work hard. We want the opportunity. The opportunity to have a good education, a good job, to have safe neighborhoods, etc.

If you think someone growing up in the inner city has the same chances as anyone else, I suggest you take a walk through any one of the inner cities in America. Take a look at the businesses, schools, housing, access to positive activities. If you still think that a child growing up under these conditions has the same chance to succeed than anyone else, you've got some issues. And that's not even mentioning the lack of positive role models that perpetuates the same problems over and over with young, easily influenced minds.

It's easy to sit behind that computer and throw all the blame on African Americans, but this is a national issue. All people must rise to the occasion to stop this whether that means paying some extra taxes to build some new schools and pay some teachers to be the needed positive role models, or whether that means putting in some time in community development.

This investment into the inner cities would take a huge chunk out of those terrible statistics that you so proudly shared with us. Hard work and sacrifice are not the problem here. My opinion is that the knowledge and understanding of the what's and how's to be successful need to be pounded home in these communities. And those with that knowledge of the what's and how's need to be rewarded for their efforts. People will work hard and sacrifice if there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Being an African American has nothing to do with that.

Obama understands this. Rev. Wright understands this. Jeff, you need to understand this.


A very good thougtful post about an important issue we all have to deal with in this country. As always in a good discussion there are things one agrees with and disagrees with about what everyone says, no one has it all right or wrong what one hopes is that we can find the balance between the two that can lead us forward and make things better for our country.
As far as the media hype over Obama's pastor, you should always judge a person by what they say not what their friends say. The only problem I have with pastor Wright is, a picky and personal one, I find it very off puting for any pastor to use the term "God D***" in a sermon. I know this seams silly given the seriousness of the discussion, but I'm sure I'm not the only Christian that finds this insulting.

The D


My issue with your position is encapsulated in the statement, "The vitriol in the Rev. Wright’s words is a direct result of what he sees ..."

It's patronizing and wrongheaded to treat a powerful leader like Wright as a dependent variable in the whole equation. His words are not some inevitable consequence of the evils of history, or of the study of same. The tendency to explain the actions of a fully realized individual as the consequence of some unifying historical theory is just the sort of sloppy dialectical thought that stifles progressive thought and serves only to induce eye rolls amongst adherents of classical liberalism. It's the kind of showy, salon era sophistry that serves only to show off the speaker's ability to take the broad view without actually advancing the debate or adding insight.

Kareem, you can and should do better.

Wright's statements were false and intentionally race-mongering demagoguery. He was a powerful and informed man and he knew (or should have known) better. Whatever his frustration with the situation and policies of the past and present, he could have presented them in any number of different ways. He chose poorly. Repeatedly. And flagrantly. He rightly bears the consequence of his decisions, and his followers must account for their reaction thereto.

P. Ami

Jeff gives voice to my thoughts regarding Mr. Abdul-Jabbar's post. One issue Jeff did miss was regarding the OJ trial. Most Americans were not bothered by the fact that OJ was married to a pretty blond woman. The issue at large was that a celebrity had murdered two people in cold blood. I don't think he is guilty because he is black, nor do I think that Phil Spector is guilty because he is Jewish. I think they are guilty because the evidence I have been privy to strongly suggests their guilt. The fact that they got off is an injustice but things like that happen. We accept that human systems will have flaws and we move on. G-d too will judge.

The problem with this post and with Obama's speech is that both convey malformed, specific events as context and ignore many other specific events for the sake of the distorted context. Jeff did a fine job of lending context to Tuskagee, lynch justice and Katrina while Kareem chose to ignore the reality of context.

Regarding history and the different ways one can view it, to anyone who says racism never existed, that may be their reality, but it is an insane reality. While insane ideas can't be ignored we should not give them equal credence as to ideas which stem from reality. Obama can choose which ever faith or creed he likes. If he wants to be President then his faith, creed and politics had better appeal to enough voters that he might win. If his creed and politics are insane then G-d protect us from our bad judgment. I pray that most Americans have the good sense to be turned off by Obama's judgment regarding who should be his spiritual mentor and recognize it as anti-American. His politics are much of the same.

I respect Mr. Abdul-Jabbar as he has worked hard and provided for himself and his family by the sweat of his brow. He has good taste in music, seems to be a good teacher (thanks for your work with Bynum. He has been a pleasure to watch grow) and a positive member of society. I would hope his life's example will be a more effective in inspiring people then the words of this particular post.

Mike in the Mountain West,
Just because you in your 27 years didn't gain the general knowledge and compassion to understand context doesn't mean everyone from your age group has missed the same opportunity. Many youths (Hitler Youth, the Red Guard, the Hippies) have "threatened" their elders with similar reminders of shorter futures. Wait until you start recognizing your parents and grandparents in your children and then we can talk about the nature of time and what the future might look like.


Nicely done, Kareem. It encapsulates one half of Barack's speech very well. We should not neglect his other half in which he makes explicit the feelings of white Americans. Both need to be exposed to the light of day and discussed if we are to get past that which divides us and find that which unites us.

Finally, some are claiming Obama threw his grandma under the bus. In truth, he did exactly the opposite. He admitted his disagreement with some of his reverend's and his grandma's statements but refused to disown either. This welcoming of the contradictions in being human and living in America is what we need in a president of all of us.

white feminist for Obama

"I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever." Thomas Jefferson, about our great national sin of slavery, in his "Notes on the State of Virginia," now carved on panel three of the Jefferson Memorial. Is that all that different from what Ambassador Peck said and Rev. Wright quoted in his sermon on September 16, 2001? Ah, but Senator Obama gets called a liar for not remembering the sermon? I wonder if all Obama's critiques can tell me what they remember from 9/16/01? The tape was cleverly created using bits and pieces of sermons to paint a picture that pandered to bigots bigotry.

I have been using a vivid description of what was done to Emmett Till in my defense of Obama's minister. I continue with mention of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor using her position to aid and abet the known murderers and terrorist group the Ku Klux Klan with her ruling in favor of the Grand Wizard (1998 ish) overturning a 50 year ban on cross burnings in Virginia. I will spare you the reason why Senator Obama's staff was forced to turn off comments on his You Tube channel. Fox news and the creator of the tape should be sued for defamation of character and for endangering both Senator Obama and Wright's lives. Times have not changed all that much. The mob was quick to judge and condemn Wright, much the same as the 14 year old boy was judged, condemned and brutally executed.

Wright may be a bit paranoid about the HI-virus, but he is not far from wrong. Lax inspections and sterilization of equipment most likely caused containment of a smallpox vaccine that was administered by the Red Cross. This is what transmitted the common animal virus to humans. It is documented that some US elected officials were indeed involved in drug running going back to Viet Nam war days. It is easy to smuggle drugs when one controls the military you see. It may or may not be true that the drugs were pushed in ghetto areas, but most likely some truth in the rumors, especially in the days when African/Americans were denied jobs due to their ethnicity.

Wright was a Marine and received a letter of thanks from President Johnson for his assistance during Johnson's surgery in 1966. He was also asked by President Clinton to attend a prayer service at the White House due to the Monica affair. He is even admired by the Clinton's former White House minister, Dean J. Snyder, Senior Minister, Foundry United Methodist Church. The media and public owe both Senator Obama and Wright an apology. Neither committed any crimes and are not guilty of anything. I also think those who say "Obama threw his grandmother under the bus" owe her an apology. She does not think so; she is quite proud of where he is today.

Senator Obama feels the majority of Americans are decent people and "The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice." (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Malcolm X asked: "Why, when all of my ancestors are snake-bitten and I'm snake-bitten, and I warn my children to avoid snakes, what does that snake sound like accusing me of hate teaching?" Obama is a bit like King to
Wright's Malcolm. The difference being that Obama is more Irish/American than Kenyan/American making him more impartial.

mary CA

Jeff: What a condesending and patronizing person you are. Did someone make you supreme over African/Americans perhaps?

Jibreel Riley: You are way to young to understand much of anything. Both you and Jeff are guilty of spouting stereotypical nonsense. Perhaps if you take a little trip to, oh, Oxford New Jersey or the surrounding area, you might come to understand a bit more about what it is truly like to be black in the USA. I challenge you to go try to get a job in the area or buy a home. Then come back and speak to Mr. Abdul-Jabbar on this subject.

Mos Def articulated it rather aptly last September during the Jena Louisiana rally. He feels like he lives in two Americas. I do too, but for a different reason. I am white and have had to live around and work with Ku Klux Klan members. Google Storm Front and read what they say about you. This is not history, this is today.


I just want to make one thing clear.

**The notion that African Americans and Mexicans are lazy is a stereotype.

We work harder and sacrifice more for less reward than any other people in America.

And all due respect to Kareem, but not everyone is blessed with the talents of Kareem.


How much I would give to have Kareem in a discussion about race with that black right wing wacko of larry elder who uses our public radio airwaves to spread his hate and ignorance

Ma Mary

Knee jerk reactions and out intellectual laziness has made us the dupes of demagogue politicians. There is so much fear and hatred around that it wearies me. Am I the only one tired of this and who would like to see a new way out?

It is apparent to me that Senator Obama has been working on this racial divide thing all his life. He has been trying to put together the two parts of his being together.

Due to the bogus one drop rule, America sees Obama as a black man, an African American but he is the biological son of a Caucasian woman and was raised by the caucasian side of his family. The first half of his life, he was a white kid, especially in Indonesia where they only saw him as an American kid.

It is only in the second half of his life that he really had the opportunity to explore his black side. I am almost certain that he has had Reverend Wrights on both sides of his life, and he developed an important insight, which tends to get lost in a lot of American discourse about race. That is, we cannot move forward by discarding people who are wounded and expressing hurt from America's long struggle with race. Reverend Wright has to be brought along as well as the stereotypical angry white man. We should not just brand them as racists and angrily move on.

We have to take them along. Obama has had to reconcile this in his heart to have survived. Obama knows white people are not devils, and neither are black people. They are just people, sometimes hurt, often mistaken, but people nonetheless.

It is so important for America to make this man president, so that it can make one of those giant social leaps. It will also help us to endure the economic suffering that is bound to be with us for a while, because we can take care of each other through the hard times. If America misses this opportunity, we might be headed for a tailspin.

I just heard that Senator Casey of Pennsylvania has endorsed Barrack and they shall be making the bus tour together. The tsunami of hope is about to hit Pennsylvania.


Rev. Wright is a powerful leader who, instead of using his God -given talent with words to create is instead destroying.

Obama's speech, however, was amazing. And gutsy. An historic moment when a man with the spotlight spoke the truth in clear balanced terms, even though it held the risk of ending his career. My esteem for him doubled in that moment.

And Kareem, since discovering this blog I am even more amazed by you (if that was possible). GREAT article.

There's just one thing still unanswered for me: if Obama is so capable of initiating change, why wasn't he able to inspire his own congregation (and close family friend) to a better mindset? He is, after all, asking to be President of the United States...?

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Captain Kareem

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is considered by many fans and sportswriters to be the greatest basketball player of all time. The 7-foot-2 Hall of Fame center, famous for his indefensible skyhook, dominated the NBA for 20 years, first with the Milwaukee Bucks then with the Los Angeles Lakers. Before that he was the star of the UCLA Bruins teams that won three consecutive NCAA championships. Kareem was the NBA's MVP six times, a 19-time all-star and set the NBA all-time records in nine categories. He is the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, a record that may never be broken.

Since retiring as a player in 1989, Kareem has balanced his love of basketball with his love of history. In 2002 he led a USBL team, the Oklahoma Storm, to a championship. Since 2005, he has been the special assistant coach for the Lakers, working with Andrew Bynum.

In 2008 he was chosen The Greatest Player in College Basketball History.

Kareem also remains intellectually active, authoring six bestselling history books intended to popularize the contributions of African-Americans to American culture and history. His books include "Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement"; "Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes"; "A Season on the Reservation," which chronicles his time teaching basketball and history on an Apache Indian reservation in White River, Ariz.; and the current New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance."

His audio adaptation, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Audio & Musical Journey through the Harlem Renaissance," is a four-volume compilation read by Bob Costas, Avery Brooks, Jesse L. Martin, and Stanley Crouch, and features private and fascinating conversations with dozens of icons, including Coach John Wooden, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones and Billy Crystal. He has also been written to L.A. Times, under the Sports section.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been appearing on various radio stations and TV shows, as well as the most relevant websites talking about his life and his new audio book, On the Shoulders of Giants.

All images are property of www.iconomy.com unless otherwise stated. All info copyrighted and owned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not replicated without permission.

Come meet Kareem at the NBA Store on 5th Avenue: Friday, May 16th, from 3:15pm - 4:15pm.

Kareem_READ The American Library Association (ALA) is pleased to announce that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has joined the popular Celebrity READ poster series. The Celebrity READ poster campaign is one of the most effective ways to encourage people to get a good education, improve their reading skills, and to read for sheer enjoyment.
Mr. Abdul-Jabbar is the 2008 Honorary Chair Library Card Sign-up Month, which takes place in September. He will also appear at the American Library’s National Convention on June 28th and 29th at the Long Beach Convention Center to sign his poster.

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