March 22, 2008 § 2 Comments
If I wasn’t immersed in the second chapter of my dissertation, I would by now have ranted about the “controversy” surrounding Barack Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. Leaving aside the fact that I agree with virtually every YouTube snippet I’ve seen to date, and the fact that it is killing me to watch Obama masticate his ethnic and racial identity for the benefit of white middle-class voters, I do have one minor observation to make.
Democratic primary voters really, really don’t like people who yell.
Remember Howard Dean? If you do, then you probably also remember that his bid for the Democratic nomination was instantly destroyed by a single televised scream. Personally, I never cared for the man, but I also fail to understand why emitting an excited “Yeah!” at a campaign rally, even a strangulated one, makes someone unfit to be president.
In a similar vein, I suspect that Rev. Wright’s remarks caused such offense not primarily because of their content, although content undoubtedly played a role, but because of their volume. As a hallmark, along with cadence and timbre, of the black evangelical church, which in turn has shaped so much of African American secular culture, the rhetorical use of loudness as a form of political communication is inextricably linked to both race and class, which, in America as elsewhere, are still wellsprings of fear.
By contrast, Obama’s speech on race was not only masterfully written but also strictly dynamically controlled. Absent were the inflections of black church discourse that we’ve heard in Obama’s campaign stumps, the artful echoes of “testifyin’” that have roused, albeit in moderation, black and white audiences alike. In their place were soothing, even tones, designed to reassure the listener that despite his long association with the Reverend and his cause, Obama does not, ultimately, speak with his voice.
That he can’t is another matter entirely.