March 26, 2008

Jeremiah A. Wright's Darker Shade of Pale

The blog "Chris Matthew's Other Leg" offers an Irish analogy providing some perspective on the molding of the tres cafe au lait Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.:
Hugh Leonard Thompson Murphy, known to history as Lennie, was born in The Village in East Belfast in 1952, a fanatically loyalist Protestant area ... Now little Lennie was stuck with that quintessential emblem of Paddydom, his very name. Murphy ( from the Gaelic Ó Murchú) is as Irish as "Danny Boy" and as Catholic as the Rosary.

In the lunatic environment in which he grew up there were widespread suspicions - and suspicions in Belfast, like unexploded bombs, tend to tick away if not swiftly disarmed - that his father William, a mild inoffensive fellow, was a 'Teague' (= Catholic, from the Irish name Tadhg =Thaddeus, Timothy). Hence Lennie, carrier of tainted blood, was called "Murphy the Mick" (Mick = Teague)...

Lennie, the emotional type, as will become clear, reacted by becoming Proddier than the Proddiest of the Prods... His obsessive hatred of Papists galvanized an essentially psychopathic nature and by the age of twenty he was slaughtering innocent Catholics at the head of a bunch of thuggish misfits who over the bloody years came to be known as the Shankill Butchers....

Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama come to mind though not because they are psychopathic killers, let me add. They are perfectly sane and not in the least criminal or violent. They are in fact pillars of their community. But they have something in common with the unlovely Lennie - a need to prove to themselves and the world that they are totally committed to their assigned identities. In an historically divided social environment, such as Belfast, fencing sitting was not a recognized way of achieving prestige in one's community or establishing the basis for a political career. Life in general, especially as regards politics and religion, was a zero sum game. ... Unimpeachable political-religious tribal credentials were necessary because absolute loyalty to and identification with the tribe was the be all and end all. ...

Jeremiah Wright, a generation before Obama, had a similar but more subtle problem that might not occur to whites who see all people of African descent as just black. Black people themselves of course are naturally more discerning. ... As anyone can attest who has seen him in his pulpit against the congregation massed behind him Pastor Wright is extremely light-skinned even to the extent that one can easily discern him actually flushing with passion at the more emotionally charged moments of his sermons, a phenomenon not to be observed with the vast majority of black preachers however riled up they get.

This might seem trivial but in the American context it can have significant psychological effects. (This whole question is explored with great subtlety by Philip Roth in The Human Stain, a true American masterpiece.) The 1960s - the seed-time of so many of today's more florid neuroses - was a period when emerging black activists, understandably enough, over-compensated for the shame historically associated with their race by proclaiming an overweening pride in their blackness or rather Blackness. "Black", they declared, "is beautiful", as indeed in so many ways it is because a socially and morally coherent black community is one of the glories of American civilization.

This radical attitude was a necessary corrective to the marginalization by law and by racial stigmatization which blacks had endured for centuries. However this was the Sixties, so in about 3.2547 seconds everyone involved went OTT and healthy radicalism transmogrified into a rabid fanaticism at the core of which throbbed a racism which was the mirror-image of that which it sought to eradicate.

Within this heady scene young Jeremiah Wright, a middle-class graduate of a white Philadelphia high school, was coming into his own. It is not to be wondered at if he felt a psychological imperative to more than emphatically establish his ethnic authenticity in the face - no pun intended - of the paleness of his own complexion when all the cadres of the cause were sporting chic afros the size of the Super Dome and wearing as a badge of honor the very blackness of which he barely possessed enough to bring a scowl to Bull Connor's unpleasing countenance.

He thus became a Super Black, the ranting, rabble-rousing Moses of an Unchosen People for whom no anti-American (because ipso facto anti-white) delusions, however demonstrably paranoid, were off limits.

So, each riding his own distinct yet not very different demons, the pale black Preacher and the half-white black Politician came together and added their own chapter to the Great Adventure that is America. [More]

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Indeed. History is full of examples of people who came from the margins of a society and ended up leading it by showing themselves to be super-nationalists. Hitler, an Austrian by birth, became a naturalized German citizen and had to be more German than the Germans. Stalin, from the fringes of the Russian empire in Georgia, grew up speaking Georgian, not Russian, and learned to out-Russian the Russians in cruelty and treachery. Napoleon, from the quasi-French island of Corsica, became a French nationalist on steroids.

Dennis Mangan said...

The state of mind illustrated in the stories of Murphy and Wright is quite common. To use everyone's favorite example, Hitler was an Austrian who became the uber=German. The Northern Irish are more British than the English, Swedes in Finland jump-started Finnish nationalism, Napoleon was a Corsican, etc.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve,

Someone's vandalised your Wiki entry.

I bet it's an Obama supporter!

Anonymous said...

Maybe if they were so caught up in self-authentication, they'd lean harder on providing a proper education to their parish. If the minister is preaching disrespect, what follows?

Article in today's WSJ:
Violence Roils Black Funeral Parlors
"The violation of the once-sacrosanct funeral is one byproduct of a little-noticed upswing in the murder rate of African-Americans. ... "funeral homes used to be the most respected places you could walk into beside the church," says Jeff Gardner, a co-owner of A.D. Porter & Sons in Louisville, Ky., and a third-generation undertaker. "Nobody respects life and the young folks nowadays don't mind dying." What worries law enforcement, criminologists and sociologists is that there's no unifying theme to explain today's increase. Some killings are drug related. Researchers trace others to a glut of ex-felons re-entering society. Others correlate the rise in murders to the lack of a proper education."

Anonymous said...

This is the kind of narrative I would imagine for Rev Wright, too.

When I lived in Boston in the eighties, I often hung out with a guy named Steve, a black man of Rev Wright's age. (I'm Obama's age and white, but we were regulars at the same bar.) Steve shared some of Rev Wright's background: middle-class upbringing, son of a minister, went to Howard.

But Steve was gay, looked West African, lived an ordinary upper-middle-class life and moved comfortably in both white and black company. His ambitious parents sent him to Howard, but he transferred to BU after a year, unfit for the struggle at Howard - the acme of black status competition - and eager to fit in.

Steve was a pleasant, sociable beta male. Rev Wright and Senator Obama are high-yellow alphas - apparently a tough row to hoe.

Anonymous said...

Though the blogger may be right about Barry and Jerry the 'Shankill Butcher' Hugh 'Lennie' Murphy comparision is questionable.

That 'Murphy the Mick' became 'Proddier than the Proddiest of the Prods' due to suspicions of Catholicism is speculation, probably started by writer Martin Dillon. Even in the 70s when things were more tense than when Murphy was growing up there were Hughies and Murphys in my Belfast Protestant neighbourhood and school who were not looked upon with suspicion - as far as I know. There are signs that Murphy was a thug at school and he also knew which kids to extort money from. He also had no compunction about killing his fellow Prods. Murphy was probably just another scumbag criminal who took advantage of the Troubles.

Not to be too pedantic but Murphy may have come from East Belfast but he did not come from The Village, which is in the south west part of the city.

Anonymous said...

An example of this phenomenon might be seen in another Irish terrorist - the godfather of the modern IRA Seán Mac Stíofáin who became the first chief of staff.
He was one of the small group who broke off to form the Provisionals which embarked on a murder campaign from 1969.
In fact his real name was John Stephenson and he was an Englishman of Irish parentage from London who served in the RAF.
He was not even born a catholic - both parents were protestant - although he underwent catholic baptism later.
He was sent to prison for trying to steal arms and upon parole in 1959, Mac Stíofáin went to the Republic of Ireland with his wife and young family and settled in Dublin and became known under the Irish version of his name.
The split in the ranks of the IRA was a bitter one. Mac Stiofain was a dedicated "physical force" republican, who believed that violence was the only means to bring about an end to British rule in Northern Ireland.
An old comrade Cathal Goulding never forgave him "That English Irishman" he would say.
He was a fanatical enthusiast for the Irish language which he learned from scratch late in life. But the fact that he was basically an Englishman is still something the Irish republican movement is touchy about.

Anonymous said...

If Wright's idea was to become an ultra-black nationalist minister, the UCC was a damn weird place to do it.

William Burns

Anonymous said...

A bit off topic (but not terribly so), as it turns out, some years ago Barack Obama actually made an audio version of his book "Dreams of my father". Hugh Hewitt put on his radio show some excerpts of the book, including Obama using profanity.

Young fogey emeritus said...

You articulated something in the back of my mind but not yet in my consciousness (until now) when I learnt of Wright's whiteness.

Like the converts to a faith are often the fanatics unlike the born members: they think they've got something to prove.

Young fogey emeritus said...

If Wright's idea was to become an ultra-black nationalist minister, the UCC was a damn weird place to do it.

I thought that too.

Why not Baptist (like MLK), AME or Pentecostal?