Preacher and the Politician
Barack Obama's inauguration as the first African American president ofthe United States has caused many commentators to conclude that America has entered a postracialage. The Preacher and the Politician argues otherwise, reminding us that, farfrom inevitable, Obama's nomination was nearly derailed by his relationship with JeremiahWright, the outspoken former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago. The media storm surrounding Wright's sermons, the historians Clarence E. Walker and Gregory D. Smithers suggest, reveals that America's fraught racial past is very much with us, onlyslightly less obvious.With meticulous research and insightful analysis, Walkerand Smithers take us back to the Democratic primary season of 2008, viewing the controversysurrounding Wright in the context of enduring religious, political, and racial dynamics in Americanhistory. In the process they expose how the persistence of institutional racism, and racialstereotypes, became a significant hurdle for Obama in his quest for thepresidency.The authors situate Wright's preaching in African American religioustraditions dating back to the eighteenth century, but they also place his sermons in a broaderprophetic strain of Protestantism that transcends racial categories. This latter connection wasconsistently missed or ignored by pundits on the right and the left who sought to paint the story insimplistic, and racially defined, terms. Obama's connection with Wright gave rise to criticismthat, according to Walker and Smithers, sits squarely in the American political tradition, wherecertain words are meant to incite racial fear, in the case of Obama with charges that the candidatewas unpatriotic, a Marxist, a Black Nationalist, or a Muslim.Once Obama becamethe Democratic nominee, the day of his election still saw ballot measures rejecting affirmativeaction and undermining the civil rights of other groups. The Preacher and the Politician is aconcise and timely study that reminds us of the need to continue to confront the legacy of racismeven as we celebrate advances in racial equality and opportunity.
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