Detroit, Michigan — One of the country’s most inflammatory orators is coming to town this Sunday.
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama’s close friend and pastor for 20 years, represents a noxious brand of American politics — one that sees the AIDS and crack epidemics as white conspiracies against blacks, finds the U.S. deserving of 9/11, and damns America rather than blesses it.
Public figures with similar messages have dotted the American landscape before. Most have been boycotted and marginalized by mainstream community groups, political activists, and corporations. But Jeremiah Wright’s Detroit visit is being given a free pass.
Why? Perhaps because Rev. Wright is the guest of the NAACP. Normally, the NAACP is a community leader in the fight against hate. On Sunday, however, they’re playing host to it.
Detroit NAACP spokesperson Latoya Henry confirms that the organization’s provocative choice as speaker for its annual dinner has elicited no negative news coverage and not a peep of protest from the local community. (Only a Jewish group in Philadelphia has asked the NAACP to reconsider its choice — inspired, perhaps, by Wright’s equation of Zionism with racism.) “We’re predicting a great crowd,” Henry says.
Indeed, the guest list reads like a Who’s Who of the Detroit establishment: AAA, AARP, Bank of America, Beaumont Hospitals, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Compuware, Flagstar Bank, Ford Motor Co., and so on. All of them are paying good money to buy tables at the largest annual sit-down charity event in Detroit, where they will hear a racial demagogue who has infamously said: “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”
Detroit’s establishment isn’t protesting, in large part because the Detroit NAACP isn’t calling their board of directors and demanding that they do so.
This week, NAACP leaders supported Rev. Wright as a great man whose words had been taken out of context. But the NAACP has made an art of protesting controversial comments by public figures.
For example, in April, 2007, NAACP president Rev. Wendell Anthony and other representatives of the Detroit group traveled to New York City to demand that talk radio host Don Imus be fired after referring to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, a Detroit Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said of Imus, “He does not yet know he has really set himself and our country back.”
Under intense pressure from the NAACP and other activists, advertisers fled Imus’ program and CBS Radio pulled the plug on him. Too bad NAACP leaders don’t hold themselves to their own standard.
They don’t know how far they have set their cause back.
– Henry Payne is a writer and editorial cartoonist for the Detroit News.