Where's Rev. Wright When You Need Him?

Israel and the United States, which could
be charged under international law with crimes against humanity for
actions in Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan, will together boycott the United
Nations World Conference Against Racism in Geneva. Racism, an endemic
feature of Israeli and American society, is not, we have decided, open
for international inspection. Barack Obama may be president, but the
United States has no intention of accepting responsibility or atoning
for past crimes, including the use of torture, its illegal wars of
aggression, slavery and the genocide on which the country was founded.
We, like Israel, prefer to confuse lies we tell about ourselves with

The Obama administration's decision not to
prosecute CIA and Bush administration officials for the use of torture
because it wants to look to the future is easy to accept if you were
never tortured. The decision not to confront slavery and the continued
discrimination against African-Americans is easy to accept if your
ancestors were not kidnapped, crammed into slave ships, denied their
religion and culture, deprived of their language, stripped of their
names, severed from their families and forced into generations of
economic misery. The decision not to discuss the genocide of Native
Americans is easy if your lands were not stolen and your people driven
into encampments and slaughtered. The doctrine of pre-emptive war and
illegal foreign occupation is easy to accept if you are not a
Palestinian, an Iraqi or an Afghan.

Obama administration's decision not to prosecute CIA and Bush
administration officials for the use of torture because it wants to
look to the future is easy to accept if you were never tortured."

To victims of oppression, the past is
never over. It is not even past. Trauma, suffering and discrimination
do not afford them that luxury. Generations bear the scars of whips and
chains. They carry heavy physical and psychological burdens. And these
burdens do not disappear when someone glibly decides to look to the

The conference in Geneva will discuss
racism and continued segregation around the world, including in
America, where African-Americans remain the nation's underclass. In
addressing slavery, it will raise the issue of reparations, something
we deem appropriate for Jewish victims of the Holocaust but not for
African-Americans. And it will seek to force all nations to confront
injustices they would rather keep hidden. But we are not ready to

The Obama administration at first refused
to participate in the preliminary negotiations for the conference,
chaired by Russia, Iran and Libya. It then agreed to attend for one
week. It demanded the removal of references to Israel in the document
outlining the goals of the conference. The references were removed. It
also demanded other insidious changes, as Vernellia R. Randall, a
University of Dayton Ohio law professor, pointed out. The Obama
administration asked that the call for reparations for
African-Americans be expunged. It insisted that the description of the
transatlantic slave trade as "a crime against humanity" be cut. And it
demanded the elimination of a call to strengthen the U.N. "Working
Group of Experts on People of African Descent," which deals with the
African diaspora.

The document, however, ratified "Durban
I," which was the concluding document of the first World Conference
Against Racism, held in South Africa in 2001. The 2001 document
included a harsh condemnation of Israel for its treatment of the
Palestinians. And this, finally, proved too much for Washington.

"Barack Obama knows full well that he
risks nothing by disrespecting African Americans at will," wrote Glen
Ford, the executive editor of The Black Agenda Report. "Across the
Black political spectrum, so-called leadership seems incapable of shame
or of taking manly or womanly offense at even the most blatant insults
to Black people when the source of the affront is Barack Hussein

The United States, which has a museum to
the Jewish Holocaust in Washington but has never found the moral
courage to officially atone for its role in slavery and the genocide of
Native Americans, perpetuates a disturbing historical amnesia. Our
national myth and deification of the Founding Fathers studiously
preclude an examination of the bloody conquest, open racism, misogyny,
elitism and brutality that led to the country's establishment and that
fester like an open wound.

We failed to fully participate in every
world conference on racism, including those held in 1978, 1983 and
2001. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his delegation during
the 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa, walked out because of what
the Americans termed "Israel-bashing."

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, on April 13,
2003, gave a 40-minute sermon called "Confusing God and Government."
Only a clip from the sermon-the phrase "God Damn America"-made it onto
the airwaves. It was repeated in endless loops on cable news channels
and used to turn Wright into a pariah. Obama denounced his former
pastor. The rest of the sermon, and especially the context in which the
phrase was used, was ignored. Obama would be a better president if he
listened to voices like Wright's and listened less to his pollsters and

The sermon was a cry from those who cannot
forget what white and privileged Americans-as well as, now, the Obama
administration-want us to ignore. It was a reminder that there are two
narratives of America. And until these narratives converge, until we
all accept the truth of our past, justice will never be done. We will
continue until then to speak in two irreconcilable languages, one that
acknowledges the pain of the past and seeks atonement and one that does
not. We will continue to be two Americas.

"This government lied about their belief
that all men were created equal," Wright told his congregation. "The
truth is they believed that all white men were created equal. The truth
is they did not even believe that white women were created equal, in
creation nor civilization. The government had to pass an amendment to
the Constitution to get white women the vote. Then the government had
to pass an equal rights amendment to get equal protection under the law
for women. The government still thinks a woman has no rights over her
own body, and between Uncle Clarence [Thomas], who sexually harassed
Anita Hill, and a closeted Klan court that is a throwback to the 19th
century, handpicked by Daddy Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, between
Clarence and that stacked court, they are about to undo Roe vs. Wade,
just like they are about to undo affirmative action. The government
lied in its founding documents and the government is still lying today.
Governments lie."

" ... When it came to treating the citizens
of African descent fairly, America failed," he said. "She put them in
chains. The government put them in slave quarters. Put them on auction
blocks. Put them in cotton fields. Put them in inferior schools. Put
them in substandard housing. Put them in scientific experiments. Put
them in the lowest-paying jobs. Put them outside the equal protection
of the law. Kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education,
and locked them into positions of hopelessness and helplessness.

"The government gives them the drugs,
builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to
sing 'God Bless America.' Naw, naw, naw. Not God Bless America. God
Damn America! That's in the Bible. For killing innocent people. God
Damn America for treating us citizens as less than human. God Damn
America as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is

There will be no delegation from the
United States at the U.N. conference on racism. Not this year. Maybe
not for several years. But the day will come, I hope, when justice will
finally conquer hate, when the truth will allow us to speak as one
nation. We can, on that day, send a delegation led by the Rev. Wright
as part of reconciliation.

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