Guest Blogger – Professor Birdsong on Barack Obama and His Pastor

Professor Leonard Birdsong


Birdsong is not an oracle. Yet, Birdsong is always asked difficult questions. This week people have been asking Birdsong: “Are Barack Obama’s chances to become President of the U.S. doomed because of his association with his allegedly fiery Pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.” Snippets of Wright’s sermons where he has condemned America for its racism and militarism have floated around the internet for several months. This past week those snippets have been the fodder of cable TV news and have raised the specter that Obama is not a loyal American and perhaps a danger to the U.S. if he were to become President.

More after the jump:

In order to give this question a good answer Birdsong must summon up a little history. The Obama/ Rev. Wright episode reminds Birdsong of the memories from the days of the old southern plantations in America. Often the white slave owners wanted their black slaves to embrace the Christian religion in a way of keeping them docile and not rebellious against the slave system. The slave owner saw their African charges as heathens needing Christianity, despite the fact that many of those brought over from Africa had previously practiced Islam or were worshipping Animists before being taken on the middle passage.

On the plantations slaves were allowed to hold church service on Sundays in the slave quarters. They could preach about God and Jesus and the great reward awaiting them in heaven. What the slave owners did not condone at such services was the idea that slavery was wrong and that slaves should escape their bondage, or even overthrow the master. To insure this would not happen, the slave owners often used spies – slaves who sought to curry favor with their masters– to tell the slave master what was being said in worship services and who was saying it. When slave preachers or other such religious instigators such as Nat Turner or Denmark Vessey used their position to oppose the slavery system they were either whipped, sold to another plantation, or killed.

The slave owner needed the slaves but could not trust them. Instinctively many slave owners knew that given the chance, the slaves, as a result of their bondage, might kill the slave owners. Thus Christian worship was allowed on the plantation in the terms that the slave owner deemed safe. Only the words and ideas condoned by the slave owners were allowed in the slave church. Of course the African slaves often devised code language and spiritual songs to trick the slave owners. The plantation slave church was church was often a place where slave preachers sought to instill the notion that the slaves might someday obtain redemption here on earth instead of waiting until they reached heaven.

The slave owner believed such notions were unwise, unsafe and antithetical to the economic system that kept the slaves in bondage. They became afraid of such notions and such preaching. It was antithetical to their notion of the world. Slaves were meant to be in bondage – the notion of freedom for the slave to the slave owners was abhorrent because they believed if freed the slave might retaliate and kill the slave owner!

And so Birdsong comes to today. Has much changed in America? Yes, it has. The slaves were given their freedom long ago. However, there may well be that atavistic fear in many whites that what is being said in the black church of today is as dangerous as that which might have been said in the old plantation church. The fear is that the slaves (blacks ) will find their redemption on earth and overthrow their white masters…and perhaps harm or kill them! The thought might be that Obama will act on the fiery rhetoric of his pastor Wright because of their association.

Irrational? Of course. But it is this type of atavistic fear in some white people that might well doom Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency. Let us hope that most people will see this fear mongering for want it is. As for Rev Wright…if he were on the plantation his words that sought to give comfort and hope to blacks that they might find redemption would have led to his being whipped, sold to another plantation, or killed.

Isn’t it good that Rev. Wright has retired.

Professor Birdsong teaches Criminal Law, White Collar Crime, Evidence, Federal Jurisdiction, and Immigration Law at Barry University School of Law. He received his Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. He has served as a diplomat with the State Department with postings in Nigeria, Germany, and the Bahamas. Professor Birdsong also worked as a federal prosecutor, first as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, and later as a Special Assistant United States Attorney for the U.S. Virgin Islands. After leaving government service, Professor Birdsong was in private practice in Washington, D.C., where he specialized in trial work ranging from criminal defense work to political asylum matters. While in private practice, Professor Birdsong was also involved with broadcast work. He has done on-air TV legal analysis work for Fox News, CNN, Court TV, BET TV News, and for WUSA Channel 9 in Washington, D.C. During this same period, he also produced and hosted several radio talk programs in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas. Currently, Professor Birdsong is occasionally invited to appear as a legal commentator on Fox News and MSNBC.

10 Responses to Guest Blogger – Professor Birdsong on Barack Obama and His Pastor

  1. Pete says:

    You are so right cuz white people are so stupid. Aren’t they?

  2. Sarah D. says:

    I love it: NEVER an excuse or context when any white person says the least little thing controversial; ALWAYS an excuse for blacks, even when what they say is racist, unpatriotic, hate speech, and outrageous LIES (U.S. invented AIDS. Puleaze!)

  3. Jesse W. says:

    LOL. Yeah, Obama still refers to Farakhan as “Minister”, he considers Wright like an “uncle that occasionally says” something off-the-wall, he says his grandmother is racist like the “typical white person”, he sits in a church for twenty years (that even Oprah left) exposing his impressionable children to this vitriolic hate speech week after week, he lies about even being there when it was said, he spearheaded the push to have Imus fired for much less, etc. etc. Oh, don’t forget that his wife (and I definitely believe Obama himself) has just now found a reason to be proud of this country. LOL. It takes millions of whites voting him to the highest office for her (and him) to be proud of this country. Not their Harvard educations, and their million-dollar annual incomes. Not my hard-earned tax dollars being shipped to Africa to combat AIDS. No, “elect my husband president and I’ll finally be proud of this country. I MAY even start standing for the national anthem.”

  4. Bob Stewart says:

    Right is right, and Wright is Wrong! NO excuse for sitting in that church for twenty years. GIVE ME A BREAK with this black context stuff!!!

  5. Such hostility!

    I have a slightly different take than Professor Birdsong – and my take is much more simplistic.

    Do all Catholics agree with the words and actions of the Pope? Do you condemn Catholics who refused to leave the Church when Cardinal Law merely transferred pedophile priests, instead of taking actions to ensure that they would not be free to abuse other children?

    No. I have known many Catholics – my family included – who find nothing troubling about sitting in the pews every Sunday, even as they personally disagree with some of the Church’s teachings, the Pope’s statements, or the actions of the Arch-Diocese.

    The KKK swam in the welcoming waters of the Southern Baptist Churches. Judaism teaches that only a few people are the “chosen people” — and that sounds an awful lot like “master race” to me. All three Abrahamic religions are full of hypocrisy, prejudice, hate, and misery.

    In other words — the only people who have any right to criticize Obama for attending his church, and refusing to “disown” his pastor are Atheists — and trust me, not a single Atheist really cares.

    On a positive note, I am pleased to have provoked some discourse, but I would ask that you try and keep it intelligent and/or civil. I don’t edit comments, but I will not hesitate to delete them if they drag the debate into the mud.

  6. Peter Thomas says:

    Guess what, white America! Rev. Wright’s view is not new to the Black Community. In fact, it is commonplace. Being at the bottom looking up fosters these conspiratorial views. And can you really blame an oppressed segment of the American Populace for having accepted such notions as pontificated by a Rev. Wright in view of the history that we’ve had in this country [Slavery, Jim Crow, The Tuskegee Experiment, Brown v. Board Of Education, unfair trials, etc]. What do you think African Americans talk about among themselves? How you love us so and how equal the playing field is now? No doubt, “We’ve come a long way, but baby, we’ve got yet a long way to go still.” The reaction to this entire issue and the way even supportive whites have responded by suddenly trending away from Obama is illustrative of how far we have to go. You have an opportunity to let all Americans know that Wright’s views are indeed wrong, but instead your actions only give credence to such theories. If Whites allow the “Wright Affair”, with views so common to us to derail his candidacy, then I assure you, you will prove him right in those same circles and even reinforce those quietly kept beliefs.

  7. Paul V says:

    I respect your feelings, Obama is a Stand up guy,,but he losing American right and left,
    When he made it a point to go on every news media and say he NEVER Heard REV Jeremiha Wright, say those things,,, then a week Later,,,He make his speech and flat out says Yes He was in church when he made those Remarks right there and then ,, Barack Obama is just a politician who just trying to get Elected,,, He Lied to all American,,, A lot of American including including Republican,, if Obama made it about Race,,, the black Community Will lose the Race,,My self, being a Mexican American, I would love to see, A black President Barack Obama is not him anymore,,, He has No integrity,,, and already lied Live on TV,,,Obama want everyone to look Beyond Race,,, Thats where he loses people,,,He telling All American,,, Look beyond Race while he hold a double standard, when it comes to Race,,,All America See’s that,, Like I said again and again,,almost 6 month ago When Don Imus said those things about the womens basketball Team,,Barack Obama said he should get fired,, Honestly I felt he should get fired,,,
    but Jeremiah Wright we seen what he said about America and what He said about Hilary clinton personally He was way out of line,,, those comment are 1000 time worst than Don Imus,,, Obama refuse to Denounce him out right,,, then he tells every lets get beyond Race,,Barack has a double standard,,, just like Jesse Jackson & Al sharpton,,,
    No American should be doing any kind of Remark like that,,, And I agree but when a black man does it and its happening more and more,, and In Jeremiah Wright, way worst,
    there an excusee over excuses,
    In other words,,, Barack Obama speech is saying “All White Americans Look Beyond Race”
    While all black American live by there Double standard,,
    Until Obama comes out clean, The Democratic party will remain split… I am in charge of over 100,000 blog pages that getting the word out against Barack Obama,, I monitor personally over 500,000 Negitive blogs on Hilary,,,geting the fact out,,,,If Barack Obama Really want Change,,,Then he going to Have to Start with him self,,,,

  8. Obama was untruthful when he said he was unaware of Wright’s message. He had to have known it. Not only was he was a member of the church for 20 years, but he said Wright was his mentor. The truth is that White-America would find these views unpalatable, and might abandon the liberal guilt presidential parade float if Obama acknowledged his church’s political views.

    I haven’t heard any of the MSM talking heads or A.M. radio blowhards challenge Wrights assertions directly. It is easier to kill the messenger than refute his message. The reason being is that there is much truth to what he says, but the “Establishment” can’t open that Pandora’s Box. Information can be very dangerous.

  9. aghostinthesnow says:

    What most of the anti-Rev. Wright people on this blog have failed to do, like most blog commentators in the internet, is a little research into the matter at hand. Had you spent 13 seconds and used the amazing new search invention I used (I believe it’s called Google), you would have found that Rev. Wrights statements were taken completely out of context when shown in the initial clips on YouTube and Fox News. Check out this link, for example…… Now, you’ll have to reap what you sow… It astounds me, that supposedly intelligent people (I mean, you have figured out how to use the internet, so I guess that’s half the battle) are so inept at simply researching a matter before commenting on it. Obviously, Prof. Birdsong did his homework… did you do yours? That’s simply a rhetorical question, for, if you had, you would have found the many articles from such obscure sites as,,, BBC America and Reuters which speak of the “full” sermons released by Rev. Wright’s “former” church this weekend. The videos of the sermons on YouTube, show that Rev. Wright was quoting, mostly from a Reagan appointed former ambassador, Mr. Peck, who had used the statements in describing his thoughts on current situations surrounding this country. Beside the fact that Rev. Wright’s comments were taken out of context, Prof. Randazza brings up a valid point… Has no one commenting on this blog disagreed with their religious or political leaders? Members of their family? Their friends? When you disagreed, which Mr. Obama has vehemently said that he does with the comments made by Rev. Wright (which, again, were TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT), did you stop loving/going to/conversing with YOUR church, country, family and/or friends? If you haven’t, you’re a hypocrite. If you have you’re an idiot. Now, this is not to say that if you already dislike a person and their beliefs or ideals don’t mesh with yours, that you can’t take a stand against them, however, if it is someone that you consider a friend, you don’t throw your relationship with them out the window over something you may disagree about. Fuck, I disagree with my friends all the time, if my friends and I agreed on everything; we’d have some very vanilla (bland) relationships.

    Another point I wanted to make, is that it absolutely boils my blood when I hear people refer to those who have a not-so-favorable view of the government as unpatriotic. That is abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous and naive. People who don’t question or disagree are simple minded and for some reason, lack the ability to do any sort of investigation into a matter (that they disagree with) before opening their pie-holes. Unfortunately (or fortunately if, like me, you happen to like to debate issues with others and have some sort of research skills i.e. “google-ing” a topic), there are enough of those kinds of people to keep morons like Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly on the air and in the public light. Trust me though, this is not directed solely at conservatives, those who know me will attest to the fact that I have both conservative and liberal views on a smorgasbord of topics (however, I have only heard conservative T.V. and radio personalities comment quickly and negatively, with a biased agenda, on the matter-at-hand, which is why they are receiving the brunt of my disdain for their shoddy “journalism” practices and commentary with a blatant disregard for the truth).

    I have heard both liberals and conservatives; democrats, independents and republicans take issue and comment idiotically on a multitude of issues and I find it repugnant, across-the-board, no matter what ideology/school of thought/political affiliation a person may lend themselves to, when someone comments on an issue, without first looking into the issue they are commenting on, so that they are not simply “following the leader” and are speaking on their own, personal, well-thought-out beliefs.

    What Prof. Birdsong has written may shatter your personal fragile reality. What Rev. Wright spoke of (and quoted others on) may seem blasphemous to a person who lives in a sheltered little bubble. Their musings are well researched and steeped in factual backgrounds. I love this country, I also love history and the truth; so, I hate to tell you, but throughout our country’s 232 year history, our government, the politicians which serve(d) it and even us, it’s citizens, have done some fucked up things. We (I refer to the previously mentioned parties) have almost wiped out the first inhabitants of this great land we currently occupy and destroy with our waste of natural resources and indifference for changing our ways as a society; we have lied, cheated and stolen from ourselves and others in order to gain both property and power; we tore a whole race of people from their homeland and enslaved them in order to further mere monetary interests; we’ve tested deadly diseases on our own airman in Tuskegee and dangerous hallucinogens on our own soldiers during the Cold War without their knowledge; we have segregated our own people from equal opportunities and education; denied different races and genders the same privileges/rights “guaranteed” to ALL citizens by the constitution and declaration of independence up until a couple of decades ago; we have funded, trained and placed into power, many of the very same people we are fighting against now and have fought against in the past; we have wrongly blamed, many people, without first investigating the whole situation and without apologizing for our mistakes afterwards; and we have sent troops into battle, time and time again, under-funded, under-prepared and under-manned and then have refused to acknowledge/treat the things that have come back with (PTSD, Agent Orange related cancers and illnesses, Desert Storm illnesses). THIS IS FACT PEOPLE! Research it for yourselves. It’s been admitted to, correlated with and agreed upon by many much smarter than you or I, but it’s in black and white and it’s true. There is no argument against the horrors I have just laid bare before you. Do you now hate our country? For the horrible things we’ve done and said (not “supposedly” done and said, DEFINITELY done and said)? Because after all that, 232 years of it, I don’t, the vast majority of you, out there don’t, lover’s of free speech and constitutionally guaranteed rights don’t and surely, not men such as Rev. Wright or Professor Birdsong don’t, as both have proudly served the good of this country in one way or another.

    In conclusion, research before reacting, listen with an open mind, and for heaven’s sake don’t be so naive as to trust those on T.V. and in the media blindly and without question; because you will find yourself duped and at the end of the day, looking ignorant.

    -Zac Papantoniou (AGhostInTheSnow)

  10. J says:

    I am a Latina and it’s not just “black context.” If white folks choose to weigh whatever they discern as positive aspects of US history and contemporary history over negative aspects of life in the US that is THEIR CHOICE.

    Some of us are disgusted by our country. Disgusted that we’ve killed up to a million Iraqis in the last 15 years. Disgusted that we’ve destroyed the infrastructure and the soil of Iraq to steal oil. Disgusted at how some of us are systemically oppressed in the US. Disgusted at how we pay the bills for genocidal regimes such as Israel. Disgusted that we leave a deep and bloody footprint wherever we go.

    I would actually vote for Barak Obama if I thought he was disgusted by the US. But he isn’t. In fact, he’s already committed himself to continue paying Israel’s bills and and and and.

    If you choose to love your country that’s your CHOICE. The fact that money is taken out of my paycheck to kill people all over the world (Colombia, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan…to name some recent murdering) it makes me want to bleed myself out. I have to make a choice to remain in the US-pay for murder and try to fight the system. Or get the hell out of the country, so I can’t be held responsible for that shit. In doing so, I leave everything I’ve known; my family, friends and the land where I was raised.

    So fuck all you judgmental motherfuckers.

    I left. I don’t live in the US anymore. I’m proud of my choice. AND I AM NOT PROUD OF MY COUNTRY.

    Free speech means letting people say whatever they want. The right of association means that Obama can listen to whatever he wants. If Rev. Wright has a congregational following, then maybe they are getting something there they don’t get anywhere else, vindication.

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