Rev. Wright’s speech: unifying or divisive?

Watch this speech: Rev. Wright Speech at NAACP

Despite your views on Rev. Jeremiah Wright, despite your political stance, despite your personal like or dislike of Wright’s religious or political views, one has to admit that his speech last night at the NAACP dinner delivered one, if not many powerful messages. Both directly and indirectly.

Wright’s speech attempted to illustrate the need for change, by revisiting the past, and illustrating what Blacks have endured, and have had to systematically overcome. To do this, he used the ‘writing for the ear techniques’ (rule of 3, repetition, anaphora, imagery, metaphor, hyperbole, balanced phrase) to grab your attention and give a very descriptive history lesson on Black history in America. Wright’s tactics definitely are memorable, and aim to entertain.

To get his point across, he sings classical, jazz, gospel, even beat-boxes at one point, he references and cites ALL Faiths, noted educators, linguists, and accounts in recent political history. His highly animated dancing, acting, yelling, joking around and sharp sarcastic remarks all work together to deliver quite a profound performance, despite how obvious the messages may be.

But…he’s been criticized for being divisive, among other things. And I think it’s worth examining. I mean, how can you honestly get away with saying, in the 21st Century, that “Black people learn differently from White people.” I take personal offense to that one. If that’s not divisive I don’t know what is. And the term “yellow” offends me too. Don’t use it again, Wright.

His his various bold and offensive remarks, may or may not detract from the overall tone of his speech, that’s for the individual to decide. However, I can honestly say that his reinforced key phrase, “Different, not deficient,” and the main theme, “I believe a change is going to come…” is still relevant and still very much needed in Black America today. This is sad, and true.

I really urge you to watch all parts of the video, you’ll definitely be entertained. After you’ve watched it, let me know your thoughts…

Thank you!



8 thoughts on “Rev. Wright’s speech: unifying or divisive?

  1. John Watkis says:

    Hi Steffi,

    I agree it is well worth it to watch Rev. Wright’s speech. He is a captivating orator who understands the intricacies of putting together a speech. My only criticism of his speaking style is that it doesn’t have enough levels. There is little room for him to “crescendo” because he starts and stays on a high level throughout his speech. While this style is suitable to some, I prefer some time to come down so I can be taken back up again.

    With regard to his statement that blacks learn differently from whites, it’s important to note that this is not something he made up. Rev. Wright was drawing this conclusion from a study done by Dr. Janice Hale. Even the phrase, “different does not mean deficient”, was a quote from Dr. Hale.

    Since I haven’t read the research, it would be premature for me to dismiss it as “divisive”. There may be some validity to it, there may not be. But it’s not up to me to make that distinction without looking at the research myself.

    It’s human nature to dismiss opinions that don’t jive with our own. It’s so much easier to defend our point of view than to give ear to and try to understand the views of another. I wasn’t offended by Wright’s comments, I was intrigued. I’m skeptical of what he’s said, but I’m not willing to dismiss it quite yet.

    Thanks for the post.

    John Watkis

  2. staffeen thompson says:

    Thanks for your comment John, it’s good to hear a speech-writer’s take on his speech and performance.

    While I agree with the message he is trying to convey, his tactics and approach make me question his credibility. I’m not dismissing his message – I’m questioning his facts.

    In fact, I would have loved to have seen his message delivered with more substantive arguments, rather than ideas about “Whites” & “Blacks” dancing to a different metre (And to that point – I know plenty of Caucasian right-brained, non-logical, subject-oriented, non-object-oriented, 2/3-5/6 time-clapping, Anita Baker-loving people), or just “Being different.”

    And just like in any good essay or speech, having correct and relevant supporting arguments that back up your statements are key, and when you quote a linguist or a teacher who researched data 25 years ago in a different social climate etc – and apply them to the present day – in a highly political context, you skew the meaning completely. Rather, Wright does.

    Thank you again, and I’d be interested in hearing what you think after you’ve done the research…

  3. Rob Small says:


    Saying blacks learn differently than whites, like John says is nothing new, and has been researched by many people. It has been said that blacks learn more by experiences and “hands-on” lessons than written static instruction. There is nothing to say which is more valuable.

    I didn’t find him that entertaining, nor insightful. It seemed like shucking and jiving to me. That’s why CNN replayed his speech and spoke favourably of it, knowing in actuality it was a PR nightmare.

    It’s sad that what whites were not able to do what a black person did, and that’s torpedoed his chances of gaining the white house. The other, more important reason this is just plain disgusting is the fact that Barack epitomized the hope of millions of Black people past and present. Just because he wanted to clean up his image, he was willing to dash those hopes in the trash. Black people are so easily duped sometimes.

  4. staffeen thompson says:

    Thanks for your comment Robert.

    CNN was criticized for only showing parts of it, to which they then aired the introductory speech and his speech – twice! Interesting. Interesting take on how it affects Obama’s campaign – do you really feel they’re being duped? Hm… Isn’t it amazing how his words seem to “do more damage” than help the already dicey situation? I wonder what drama will be next!

    Thanks again.

  5. John Watkis says:

    Hi Steffi,

    After listening to Rev. Wright’s comments again, I find myself agreeing with most of what he said. Not all, but most.

    In my previous comment, I mentioned how easy it is to defend a point you believe in rather than trying to understand someone else’s point. And when people are offended by many (not all) of Wright’s comments, it’s because the comments are taken out of context and misunderstood.

    When Wright speaks about the differences between “blacks” and “whites”, he’s not speaking about genetic differences. Those do exist, but that’s not where he’s coming from. He’s speaking about differences in culture. In particular, African culture and European culture. Those differences in culture are what contribute to the differences in learning styles, linguistics, music and religious expression.

    I think his music example was very “substantive”. There are clear differences between the musical compositions of African and European music. And because there are clear differences, those who are raised in a particular culture will, for the most part, behave according to their culture. Are there exceptions? Of course. But they are exceptions, not the rule.

    Had Wright wanted to make his comments less controversial (which I don’t believe he did), he could have used softeners in front of his hard-to-digest comments that would have left him some wiggle room. Softeners are phrases such as:

    “for the most part”
    “generally speaking”
    “more often than not”

    Had he used those softeners instead of making sweeping comments, I think people would be less offended.

  6. Rhonda Bowen says:

    I have to say I am a bit annoyed at the argument about blacks learning differently than whites. If as John says, it is about culture, and the environment in which one is brought up, then it has nothing to do with colour. It means then that if both a white person and a black person grow up in the exact same environment with the exact same experiences they both should be learning the same way.

    What that means then is that it is the experiences of blacks that affect the way there are learning. Experiences such as racism in classrooms, insufficient nutrition (because of socio-economic factors) that affect their learning, insufficient adult supervision because of being grown up in single parent families etc. If a white person grew up under the same conditions, they would have the same challenges learning in the same ‘European’ environment.

    The problem with saying that blacks and whites learn differently is that it automatically gives individuals who want to, a free pass to discriminate. So therefore, because you’re black and you learn differently, you shouldn’t go to Princeton because its not for you. Try community college.

    Why were we fighting for equality all those years if we were going to turn around and shoot ourselves in the foot by saying we are different because of our colour? Excuse me, but wasn’t that the justification given for slavery?

  7. staffeen thompson says:

    Rhonda, right on. I actually think we understand the concept quite well, and I find the logic flawed and misleading. The concept just breeds ridiculous racist ideologies that we’ve been trying to overcome for so many years! (cringe).

    And if he’s quoted/cited this research trying to enlighten African Americans – to get them to change the way they think, feel, act, treat and mistreat themselves and others – I believe he’s completely missed the mark! There’s nothing enlightening about that statement.

    And there aren’t enough “softeners” in the world that could make me less offended or make that statement acceptable. Sweeping statement or not.

  8. John Watkis says:

    To Rhonda:

    Your first paragraph is spot on. It’s not about colour. As I mentioned in a previous post, that would be about genetics.

    With regard to shooting ourselves in the foot by saying there are differences in learning styles, I disagree. As Wright mentioned, blacks were being unfairly labeled as EMH, etc … because of different learning styles that were culturally based. If it weren’t for this type of research that identified the differences in learning styles, these labels would have caused more damage than they already have.

    When the education system was forced to reassess its methods of teaching, those methods changed and accommodated a variety of learning styles. So pointing out the differences in learning styles has helped the education system to evolve. It has made the education system more inclusive. The way I was taught in school 30 years ago is not the way my children are being taught today. There is still a long way to go, but progress is being made. And the reason progress is being made is because the educational system realizes you can not teach all children of different cultures (African, Asian, European, Native) in a one-size-fits-all manner.

    Being equal does not mean being the same. Different does not mean deficient … it just means different.

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