Upsetting The Natural Order

My best buddy called me mid morning yesterday at the office. While we were talking, I asked him - “have you seen the video clip of Rev Pfleger?”

Rev Pfleger was the Chicago Catholic priest who has caused the latest controversy as a guest pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, the church from which Barack Obama recently resigned.

“No, I haven’t,” he said. “What’s it about?”

“It’s…it’s ah…” I leaned closer to the corner of my cubicle and lowered my voice. “You’ve got this white priest in front of this black congregation, and he –“ I paused as someone passed my desk. “-he is…he’s telling the congregation how he thinks Hillary Clinton sees the primary-“

“Okay.”

“Its HOW he’s saying it – it’s like he’s a comedian – like he’s Steve Martin playing a black preacher”

“What!”

“I can’t talk about this at work. You just have to see it – I’m sending you a link.”


My best buddy, who is notorious for not reading his email, not only watched the video, he even sends a reply to the message – a rarity. "
"Where was this guy when I was growing up in Brooklyn?" he wrote, an allusion to the cultural gap between him and the priests of his childhood.

He called me back, but I was on the phone with a customer. Then he called me about five o'clock. “What the hell? I mean, what he said is pretty close to the truth…but...” He stopped, sighed, sighed again. “I don’t think America - I mean white America - is ready for this much honesty.”

I couldn’t really respond to him the way I wanted to, so I told him to call me later. He did – two more times, in fact, before the night was over.

“I didn’t see a priest," I said "I saw a comedian. Remember the part where the reverend paused, then turned to the side and hoofed it across the pulpit, his body bent forward, his right arm trailing behind him as he wailed “it’s a black man, and he’s stealing my show”? That – that was a Jackie Gleason move, straight out of The Honeymooners.”


It was seven thirty now, an hour when my buddy was usually spending time with his wife and kids, when he called again. “This stuff,” he said, “– this kind of stuff – you know, the natural order of things is upside down right now.” A somber tone of resignation underlined his words.

“Brother,” I said, “the thing about the civil rights movement they never show you is that most middle class black people - people like you - wanted Martin Luther King to shut the hell up. To tone his rhetoric down. I know I’ve been joking about them breaking the firehoses and the dogs out again, but the reality is that this thing is going to be hard. Hard for all of us.”

And as I watched the news shows later, I thought about the reasons why I wanted Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States. I hadn’t really gone all that deeply into his website. I had no idea how he planned on handling nuclear proliferation. And I wasn’t paying attention whenever he detailed his strategy for saving Social Security. Whether or not Barack Obama ended up being the worst president in the history of presidents was almost irrelevant to me - what mattered to me most was how having this intelligent black man's face on TV every week would inspire young black boys and young black men to do big things with their own lives.

What I really think we desperately need to get from all of this is a realignment of the “natural order” of things, not just in America, but in black America. I want to see our own cultural totem pole recarved, with a smart black man in a blue suit at the top. With black men and women who teach our children, who heal our sick and keep our streets safe just below that image. I don’t want to take the rappers and the singers off of the totem pole – just slide them down a few notches from where they are now.



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