by Guest Contributor Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, originally published at Multiplicative Identity
(When Big Media repeatedly called Rev. Jeremiah Wright “fiery,” what are they REALLY trying to say? Hmm.)
Barack Obama’s former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, responds to the NY Times in a letter I wish I’d written.
Please note that in the Times’ introduction to Wright’s letter, the newspaper calls it “fiery”. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this man referred to as fiery in the Big Media lately. The use of this word is no mistake.
See, fiery is a code word. I write much and often of code words used in Big Media to describe minorities. Code words are used in order to nullify whatever it is the minority says or does, without coming right about and saying so. Their use for this purpose has been happening for centuries. A scan of newspaper articles from the late 1800s make this quite clear, when “objective” pieces refer to single mothers as “loose women,” etc. It’s still happening today.
How many non-Hispanic white women do we see called “sassy” by the media? Sassy is a term generally reserved for minority women. But what is “sassing”? It is what children do to parents when they are disobedient. Cute, rebellious, and ultimately harmless. Code words put people “in their place,” and serve to make white people comfortable.
How many non-Hispanic whites are called “fiery”? Fiery. Let’s think about this word a bit. Who is fiery? People who are out of control. But used in conjunction with a piece about a black minister, there are even more sinister connotations. Burning crosses. Fiery. Firebombed churches. Fiery. Hell, brimstone. Fiery. A loaded word if ever there was one.
Code words I’ve seen often used for African Americans: bold, articulate, combative, activist, earthy, outspoken, dignified (only generally used in a photo caption of someone at a funeral, usually a woman in a hat), well-spoken, angry. Fiery.
For Latinos/Hispanics, the code words and phrases tend to include: hot, spicy, passionate, white-hot, red-hot, feisty, fiery, hip-shaking, hot tamale, whole enchilada, newly-arrived, emotional, “caliente”, etc. We are often assigned “South of the border” qualities, regardless of where we were born.
Read Rev. Wright’s letter here:
March 11, 2007
The New York Times
9 West 43rd Street
New York 10036-3959
Thank you for engaging in one of the biggest misrepresentations of the truth I have ever seen in sixty-five years. You sat and shared with me for two hours. You told me you were doing a “Spiritual Biography” of Senator Barack Obama. For two hours, I shared with you how I thought he was the most principled individual in public service that I have ever met.
For two hours, I talked with you about how idealistic he was. For two hours I shared with you what a genuine human being he was. I told you how incredible he was as a man who was an African American in public service, and as a man who refused to announce his candidacy for President until Carol Moseley Braun indicated one way or the other whether or not she was going to run.
I told you what a dreamer he was. I told you how idealistic he was. We talked about how refreshing it would be for someone who knew about Islam to be in the Oval Office. Your own question to me was, Didn’t I think it would be incredible to have somebody in the Oval Office who not only knew about Muslims, but had living and breathing Muslims in his own family? I told you how important it would be to have a man who not only knew the difference between Shiites and Sunnis prior to 9/11/01 in the Oval Office, but also how important it would be to have a man who knew what Sufism was; a man who understood that there were different branches of Judaism; a man who knew the difference between Hasidic Jews, Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews and Reformed Jews; and a man who was a devout Christian, but who did not prejudge others because they believed something other than what he believed.
I talked about how rare it was to meet a man whose Christianity was not just “in word only.” I talked about Barack being a person who lived his faith and did not argue his faith. I talked about Barack as a person who did not draw doctrinal lines in the sand nor consign other people to hell if they did not believe what he believed.
Out of a two-hour conversation with you about Barack’s spiritual journey and my protesting to you that I had not shaped him nor formed him, that I had not mentored him or made him the man he was, even though I would love to take that credit, you did not print any of that. When I told you, using one of your own Jewish stories from the Hebrew Bible as to how God asked Moses, “What is that in your hand?,” that Barack was like that when I met him. Barack had it “in his hand.” Barack had in his grasp a uniqueness in terms of his spiritual development that one is hard put to find in the 21st century, and you did not print that.
As I was just starting to say a moment ago, Jodi, out of two hours of conversation I spent approximately five to seven minutes on Barack’s taking advice from one of his trusted campaign people and deeming it unwise to make me the media spotlight on the day of his announcing his candidacy for the Presidency and what do you print? You and your editor proceeded to present to the general public a snippet, a printed “sound byte” and a titillating and tantalizing article about his disinviting me to the Invocation on the day of his announcing his candidacy.
I have never been exposed to that kind of duplicitous behavior before, and I want to write you publicly to let you know that I do not approve of it and will not be party to any further smearing of the name, the reputation, the integrity or the character of perhaps this nation’s first (and maybe even only) honest candidate offering himself for public service as the person to occupy the Oval Office.
Your editor is a sensationalist. For you to even mention that makes me doubt your credibility, and I am looking forward to see how you are going to butcher what else I had to say concerning Senator Obama’s “Spiritual Biography.” Our Conference Minister, the Reverend Jane Fisler Hoffman, a white woman who belongs to a Black church that Hannity of “Hannity and Colmes” is trying to trash, set the record straight for you in terms of who I am and in terms of who we are as the church to which Barack has belonged for over twenty years.
The president of our denomination, the Reverend John Thomas, has offered to try to help you clarify in your confused head what Trinity Church is even though you spent the entire weekend with us setting me up to interview me for what turned out to be a smear of the Senator; and yet The New York Times continues to roll on making the truth what it wants to be the truth. I do not remember reading in your article that Barack had apologized for listening to that bad information and bad advice. Did I miss it? Or did your editor cut it out? Either way, you do not have to worry about hearing anything else from me for you to edit or “spin” because you are more interested in journalism than in truth.
Forgive me for having a momentary lapse. I forgot that The New York Times was leading the bandwagon in trumpeting why it is we should have gone into an illegal war. The New York Times became George Bush and the Republican Party’s national “blog.” The New York Times played a role in the outing of Valerie Plame. I do not know why I thought The New York Times had actually repented and was going to exhibit a different kind of behavior.
Maybe it was my faith in the Jewish Holy Day of Roshashana. Maybe it was my being caught up in the euphoria of the Season of Lent; but whatever it is or was, I was sadly mistaken. There is no repentance on the part of The New York Times. There is no integrity when it comes to The Times. You should do well with that paper, Jodi. You looked me straight in my face and told me a lie!
Sincerely and respectfully yours,
Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., Senior Pastor
Trinity United Church of Christ