Rev. Wright, Senator Obama and the Ghosts in the Room

By Richard Land
Mar 22, 2008

Whenever Americans discuss the issue of race, there are always ghosts in the room with us—the ghosts of racial sins and racial hurts from our shared and tragic past.

Race has always been the serpent in the American Eden, the birth defect in our historic genetic code.

Senator Obama’s speech earlier this week used one of my favorite quotes from William Faulkner: “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past,” to make this point. Living in Mississippi, Faulkner understood the “Ghosts of Mississippi” always present in the room and part of every racial interaction. And that’s true of not just Mississippi, but the entire nation as well.

This column originally posted at’s Casting Stones blog.

That is precisely why so many people have invested so much hope in Senator Obama—a candidate who is “black,” but not the black candidate—a man who has empathy for the hurt of all sides of our American racial tragedies.

What other American politician who is African-American could, or would, have the courage to articulate the frustrations of working-class whites as Sen. Obama did in his speech. Senator Obama acknowledged with empathy those millions of white Americans who:

“…don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race” and when such Americans “hear that an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.”

When Senator Obama acknowledges and understands such feelings, he is performing a healing act for the entire nation. Also, there is no question Senator Obama “feels the pain” of those generations of African-Americans who have been victims of extreme prejudice and destructive discrimination.

Senator Obama is absolutely right that we need to have a productive and constructive conversation about the past, the present and the future of race in this country. That is the only pathway toward the post-racial future which many hope Senator Obama represents—a country in which people truly will “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

We must talk about these things honestly, openly, and with great intentionality. I am reminded of a scene in Walk the Line, the 2006 film biography of John and June Cash. He asks her to marry him, and she reminds him of the obstacles in their path:

June: “Well how’s it gonna work, John? Where we gonna live? What about my girls? What about your girls? What about your parents, John? Your daddy won’t even look at me.”

John: “June, that stuff will just work itself out.”

June: “No, it does not work itself out! People work it out for you and you think it works itself out.”

We, as Americans, must work these things out. If we don’t, others with less hopeful and constructive agendas will work them out for us in less healing and far more hurtful ways.

And in working these things out on our journey to a post-racial future, Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s hateful, hurtful statements must be recognized as echoes of the ghosts of the past that we must overcome in order to go where the vast majority of our nation, “red, yellow, black and white” and every combination in between earnestly desires to go.

That’s the dream that can truly dispel the ghosts forever.

This column originally posted at’s Casting Stones blog.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission works to improve racial and ethnic relations in America and around the world. To learn more about this important issue, additional resources are available here. If your church is interested in purchasing materials on racial relations, please visit our online bookstore and

Further Learning

Learn more about: Citizenship, Racial Reconciliation,


1 On Mar 25, 2008, at 11:00pm, Frank L Bain Jr wrote:

Well said, Dr. Land.

As a believing, positive person, I’m optimistic that barriers can fall and that honest discussion is useful and can be very promising. My pessimism sneaks up on me when (not without justification I fear) I notice that the speaker might have an agenda (like election to high(er) office!) that renders the discourse less-than-honest!

Rather than run for the office of the Presidency, and since he his found to be so uniquely qualified, Mr. Obama should quit the campaign and make a career of making the case for unity all the more effective!


2 On Mar 26, 2008, at 1:42am, Mike wrote:

Senator Obama is a brilliant orator. He does seem to have a handle on where race relations should go, listening to his speech. However a speech does not tell you about the man. The old axiom, actions speech louder than words apply here. Senator Obama’s membership in a church and a relationship with a pastor who has made statements that are racist and anti-Christian, speak volumes. Obama must have known this. This goes to Obama’s lack of judgement. This man is too young, niave and inexperienced to be President. His foreign polices and domestic agenda will take this country down a dark road, that I am not sure we can recover from. The best word to decribe it is “Dangerous.”.....Thank you.

3 On Mar 28, 2008, at 5:23pm, Del in 1774 wrote:

Obama’s rhetoric is certainly positive, but my concern is his record. Has he worked toward uniting American’s of diverse ethnicity, faith, or 0politics?

His record in the Illinois and U.S. Senate are not indicative of bipartisanship. We need a return to the ‘self evident truths’ as identified in our Declaration of Independence. This ‘most liberal’ member of the Senate is for more government and less individual liberty.

It is my opinion that he doesn’t seek a change from our current trends of government, but more and more government—the anti-thesis of faith based personal responsibility of our original founding documents.

We need proofs from his past that support your apparent beliefs in him.

As of now, I have no candidate that I can cast a positive vote for. I will be voting against the candidate I think is least desirable to hold this important office of President of the United States of America.

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