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Blacks and self-sabotage

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In an amazing turn of events, in this week's primaries in North Carolina and Indiana, Americans got over Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Given Senator Obama's triumph this week - you might guess the larger community of voting Americans, at least those in Indiana and North Carolina, had seen through the Wright faux pas. And that indeed appears to be the case for many. But that doesn't change the fact that blacks struggle with self-sabotage, and that sad thing we do to each other was revealed by Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

And, while it may be more poetic than true to write this, it's as if the "the black vote" turned out resoundingly for Senator Obama, to make-up for the troubles, "we," in a sense, inflicted on him.

So who cares at this point? Well, as an exercise in self-reflection, I think blacks need to think about the drama created by Wright. We need to reflect on the damage Wright did, and the possibility that it could outweigh anything Republican candidate John McCain, Democratic rival Hillary Clinton or "the American Media" could have done to Senator Obama: As the mayor of Hammond, Indiana, Tom McDermott, said the night of the Indiana vote, in response to the question, Do you think Reverend Wright had a big impact on voters in Hammond? - "I think it had an impact and it's going to continue to have an impact, and that's what makes me nervous about Senator Barack Obama possibly getting the nomination. This seems to be an issue that hit home with a lot of voters and the city that I'm the mayor of. And I don't know if the story is over yet."

Rev. Jeremiah Wright fed the notion that American blacks can't see the forest for the trees: His actions said, I don't see the big picture, I can't see beyond myself. His actions, many might interpret to be - dare I say it - insane. Senator Obama, presidential hopeful, thusly stood alone with this funny sideshow, a prominent member of his minority group actively working against him. (Is that fair, that Obama should be judged by his pastor? No of course not, but that's the way it is, we know the rules.)

The black pundits have been uneasy about admitting this thing about themselves; Bob Herbert of The New York Times was one of the few to say it plainly:

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright went to Washington on Monday not to praise Barack Obama, but to bury him. Smiling, cracking corny jokes, mugging it up for the big-time news media . . .

Blacks are less than 20% of the American population and the mainstream press reacted in utter awe at this ability to self-sabotage: Washington DC insider, David Gergen, now with CNN, remarked on the damage Wright did, "His publicity blitz has been the dumbest, most selfish, most narcissistic act I have seen in politics in some 40 years. Here, we have, for the first time in American history, an African-American who might make it to the presidency, and Reverend Jeremiah Wright is choosing it to single-handedly do more than anything else in the country to try to stop that candidacy and to hurt and ruin that candidacy." Joy Behar, a comic who also appeared on CNN joked, "I was reading this 18th century playwright, a great egotist - this is Jeremiah Wright, in my opinion - a great egotist is someone who will burn the house down to cook himself a couple of eggs. That's what I think this guy is doing." And Andrew Sullivan had the common sense to reprint a blog titled, "Crabs in a Barrel"; a phrase regular black folks use to describe this kind of bad behavior.

Because of my job, I spent much of the week prior to the North Carolina and Indiana primaries filing interviews with media and religious leaders explaining how Wright was misunderstood by the media - "taken out of context", "overexposed" - by a salacious, silly, ratings-driven press.

But more truthfully, none of this would have happened - in this way - if Wright had not acted so brazenly, at that moment in time. He alone was the black person who chose to act and hurt another black person's chance at gaining the highest office in the country.

It seems to me blacks are so overburdened with their pain (past and present) that they, on some core level, have can become deeply selfish, individualistic people. This is the danger for us. We have to work on this. We have to deal with the things both immediate and gone that have made us angry - and we have to understand that we cannot get ahead by hurting each other. It seems so simple. Clearly, it is not.

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