black theology, Jeremiah Wright, race

Reflecting on Wright: Towards a Negative Theology of Wright

A negative theology is to say what something is not. Generally understood, negative theology applies towards stating what God is not. Below is a negative theology of Dr. Wright. He isn’t a crazy person, a man with “issues”, or a reverse racist.

Last night Bill Moyers reflected on Dr. Wright, conservative preachers, and the whole continuing media debacle on race. Well done sir.

It is quite telling that every time there is a public discussion on Wright – or even a private discussion on race – we must begin with a reflection on the history of slavery. Indeed we ought to begin with an honest history, however, the reason we must today is because the grand story of America refuses to listen to horrors that America has committed. In such a refusal, the ideas that Wright is a crazy person, a black man with issues, or a reverse racist find their genesis.

Dr. Wright is angry. Yes. Or rather, can be angry, but there is nothing wrong with that. I suspect God has been as angry as Wright, and so were the prophets and Jesus. White people might find anger threatening, but Dr. Wright hasn’t lost his ability to speak in his anger. His story is still voiced and that is more threatening. However, those who refuse to hear his words at all, call him a crazy person. They make an appeal that he is out of his mind, that he is merely emotional. This simply isn’t true, rather the opposite is correct. One must simply listen to what Wright says to see this. He is too coherent to be crazy.

Others seem to think Wright has “issues.” Anne Lamott does. Thankfully she admits she isn’t a theologian (and it shows). To put it mildly, yes, Wright has issues, but not in the way we say it. In fact there is still the large issue of race that we refuse to adequately engage (hell, we haven’t even got to other forms of racism directed toward immigrants, etc.). This weighs hard of the black community, while the white community refuses to acknowledge systemic problems (to speak in broad terms – really its the black and white stories that are at odds, one more honest than the other). Of course Wright would have a few problems to shout about, because by and large America is still racist.

Dr. Wright is also not a reverse racist. This is not to say that a black person cannot be racist, however, what Newt Gingrich purports assumes that racism does not continue to exist in any large way. Yet, if what Wright does say is true, understood within a racist culture at large, than it merely rings true. However, Wright is not engaged by others at the level of his and his community’s experience. Instead, Wright’s words are taken from his mouth – from his black body and black context – and put into a white person’s body and context. In some senses, it seems that even Wright speaking cannot be understood as a black person speaking; rather, culture at large must think of him as a white person. How is that not itself racist, stripping him of his own humanity? Sure, maybe if we took Wright’s words and gave them to an oppressive people, the content of the words might sound racist, because they would be coming from the oppressive people’s lips. The body and context from whom the words come from are infinitely important. To call Wright a reverse racist merely on the basis of what he said in his speeches, based on forgetting the black community’s story and acting like he is a white man, is bullshit. This is just another way to marginalize a black man speaking prophetic truth.

With all this in mind, no wonder liberation theology operates through hermeneutic of suspicion.


2 thoughts on “Reflecting on Wright: Towards a Negative Theology of Wright

  1. Pingback: Misguided Ways of Dealing with Race and Racism « flying.farther

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