... over Pastor Jeremiah Wright's sermons.
"What?" they seem to say. "How dare he? Why is he so ... angry?"
Are we really that obtuse? Really that blind?
I'm not talking about historical atrocities that were really, not that long ago. I'm talking about attitudes today.
Like the mayor of Jasper. You remember Jasper, right? Where James Byrd was horrifically beaten then dragged to death ... his body literally ripped apart.
The current mayor of Jasper, David Barber, says that the killing of James Byrd was "blown up out of proportion."
So I get the anger. I don't get the shock. Haven't we heard worse in our own homes, or in the homes of extended family?
How many of us were nodding with Obama, as we, in that moment, all shared the experience of having cringed at something racist someone we loved said?
Someone we loved. Not just a racist mayor. Someone we loved.
In Thandeka's book, Learning to Be White, she speaks to those with white skin, hearing their stories of when they first realized their whiteness, many of them realizing that someone they loved held racist views. Hateful views.
I have that memory. I was, oh, about 11 or 12. I was visiting my beloved Great-Aunt while my mother was running errands. I excitedly told her about a new hit song by a band called INXS, it was sooo cool. I told her the lyrics I knew:
Dream on white boy
Dream on black girl
And wake up to a brand new day
I somehow didn't register the next line ... "To find your dreams have washed away." So to me, it was a song of hope and beauty. That's how I'd been raised. As I danced around and told her about the song, I still lived in a world where all of the people I loved believed in racial equity and fairness. A world where racism was wrong and bad and all the people I loved were right and good.
That world was shattered as she began a tirade about desegregation and about how "we" were supposed to lift "them" up but instead "they" pulled us down to "their level."
I just remember standing there in shock. I don't remember what I said, or discussing it later with my mother, or any of that. I could not have been more shocked if she had begun explaining why it was necessary to murder toddlers.
I loved her for the rest of her life. But I learned how to love someone with disappointment, how to love someone with a quiet sorrow.
It's still going on. In big ways, like the mayor of Jasper, and in little ways like my sweet little aunt who, when talking politics with my mother, said timidly, "You'd vote for a black man?"
(My mother enjoyed announcing, "I already did!")
Obama hit on a detail in all of this that is so pertinent ... that it is so easy to divide up the world into camps -- racist on this side, people I love on the other side. But it really doesn't work that way.
I am not a subscriber to the notion of white guilt, but I know I have carried the uneasy feeling that to keep loving someone who was racist was wrong. That I should have completely excised them from my life.
They are old. They may not change before they die. But we still love them. With a bit of sorrow, but we still love them.
But now, they're living in our world.