Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama has once again tried to distance himself from his long-time pastor and mentor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose comments about a government conspiracy to commit genocide against blacks and other controversial claims have plagued the Obama campaign in recent days. In a speech Tuesday in Philadelphia, Sen. Obama again denounced Rev. Wright’s incendiary comments, but professed that he could “no more disown Rev. Wright” than he could his white grandmother, who, on occasion, he heard utter “racial and ethnic stereotypes,” and, he admitted, sometimes feared black men.
Of course, one does not choose one’s grandmother, but Sen. Obama did choose his church, and the question remains: why would he choose to join a church led by a self-declared Afrocentric minister? Was it because of Sen. Obama’s own African ancestry? I doubt it, because Afrocentrism is no more a reflection of authentic African culture than white supremacy is of American culture. Nor is Afrocentrism merely about black pride — though Afrocentric “scholars” do frequently claim that Moses, Jesus, Cicero, Cleopatra, and a host of other luminaries were black.
#ad#At its heart, Afrocentrism is based on a profoundly anti-white and paranoid ideology. First, it asserts that the entire foundation of Western Civilization was stolen by the Greeks from Egypt, which, Afrocentrics claim, was ruled by ancient blacks. Second, it claims that whites are deeply inferior. Afrocentric texts often describe whites as “ice people,” whose defective melanin, or skin pigmentation, makes them susceptible to a host of mental and physical deficiencies, including sexual deviancy. And, finally, Afrocentrism encourages blacks to fear whites.
Afrocentric curricula were wildly popular a decade ago in many public-school systems in the 1990s from Portland, Oregon, to Atlanta, Georgia, and are still used in some charter schools and colleges around the country. But the Afrocentric craze reached beyond schools and colleges to black churches as well. Trinity United Church of Christ, where Rev. Wright presided until recently, is one of hundreds of such churches. As Trinity parishioner and University of Chicago theology professor Dwight Hopkins told ABC News in an interview, “If we took a field trip to a thousand black churches across the country on Sunday, you would have a very serious wake-up call on the nature of those messages.”
Perhaps Sen. Obama didn’t hear Rev. Wright’s most outrageous sermons, but it’s difficult to believe that he was unaware of the controversy surrounding Afrocentrism when he chose his church. The radical views of Afrocentric educators have been widely covered in the mainstream press and in books by the late Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Diane Ravitch, and others. Rev. Wright’s hateful jeremiad against “the U.S. — KKK — A.,” and a government that “gives [black men] drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America . . .” has its antecedents in rants by other prominent Afrocentrics, among them Leonard Jeffries, a City College of New York professor who has been involved in his own controversies for anti-Semitic statements, and Maulana Ron Karenga, the inventor of Kwanza who was convicted of torturing two female members of a violent black separatist movement, United Simba, which he founded in the late 1960s.
Rev. Wright’s extremist rhetoric clearly resonates with many blacks, including churchgoers. In one poll of black church members, more than one third said they believed AIDS was a form of genocide against blacks. Rev. Wright echoed this claim in one of his inflammatory sermons, “The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. The government lied.” A 1990 poll taken by the New York Times/CBS found that 10 percent of blacks in New York City thought the AIDS virus was “deliberately created in a laboratory in order to infect black people,” while another 19 percent thought the theory might possibly be true, a finding that was confirmed in a similar poll by Newsweek/Gallup in March 1990. And the paranoia among blacks has only gotten worse, according to a 2005 study by Rand Corporation and Oregon State University, which showed that half of African Americans surveyed believed that AIDS is man-made, more than one quarter said it was created in a government lab, and 12 percent claimed that the virus was spread by the CIA.
Sen. Obama claims to want to cross America’s racial divide and bring Americans, black and white, together, a theme he reiterated in Tuesday’s speech. But Trinity United Church of Christ’s vision statement is all about racial identity, promising “a congregation with a non-negotiable commitment to Africa” and “committed to the historical education of African people in Diaspora.” Sen. Obama cannot disown Rev. Wright’s disturbing words while remaining a member of an institution whose stated mission implies the promotion of a racist ideology.
– Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which published Alternatives to Afrocentrism, edited by NR’s John J. Miller, in 1994.