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Color-Coded: Jeremiah Wright and the Real Deal on Race

by Chris Floyd
Sunday, 4 May 2008
Many liberals and progressives denounced Wright in terms that are indistinguishable from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. You would think it might trouble these self-proclaimed liberals and progressives that they find themselves in such company, but it doesn't. This is useful information.

You want a "national dialogue on race"? Arthur Silber's got one for you: a real one, not the heartland hokum being served up on the campaign trail, or the panicky poltroonery issuing forth from the "progressive" commentariat. In his latest piece, Choosing Sides, Silber digs deep and ranges far, taking off from the Jeremiah Wright "controversy" -- if that's a fit word for the congealed mass of willful ignorance, partisan zeal and national delusion that has gathered around Wright's name. Silber examines liberation theology, the unacknowledged history of hideous medical experiments on black Americans from colonial times to the present day, and the "loony anti-Americanism" of Martin Luther King Jr. -- whose last scheduled sermon, forestalled by his murder, was entitled, "Why America May Go to Hell."

You should read the whole piece -- which is framed with a moving and pertinent autobiographical aspect, with the personal element illuminating our political moment. But here are a few choice morsels to whet your appetite:

It is only one of the many calumnies heaped on Wright's head that the mythical, non-existent King is used to condemn him. There is no question that, if King were to reappear among us and speak as he did in the last few years of his life, he would be vilified and loathed in terms at least as harsh as those now directed at Wright. This is to not even mention what some of these same liberals and progressives might say about certain of the views of radicals such as Thomas Jefferson. As I often note these days, we are drowning in lies. Yet it is still no small wonder that this entire conversation about Wright, King, et al. proceeds in the almost complete absence of a discussion of what Wright has actually said, just as no one seems to remember

Silber also quotes from Margret Kimberley's review of Harriet Washington's new book, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present:

The name Josef Mengele is so infamous that it needs no introduction. Mengele was the German doctor who performed medical experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. An American doctor, James Marion Sims was equally monstrous, but his name is less well known.

Sims was a doctor who routinely performed unnecessary and sadistic surgeries on slaves in Alabama. He opened the skulls of babies and performed gynecological surgeries on women. They were forced to endure unimaginable treatments, all without the ether that had by then become available as an anesthetic. Of course, being enslaved people, they had no choice in any decisions that Sims made about their bodies or their lives.

Sims allegedly sought to treat vaginal fistulas caused by complications of child birth. One woman underwent this treatment, without anesthesia, 30 times. He obviously didn't cure her of anything.

Because Sims' victims were black Americans their stories remained largely untold. They were not the first or the last black Americans to be subjected to what can only be called torture in the name of scientific investigation. Sims is called "the father of gynecology" and eventually became president of the American Medical Association. He has been immortalized in a monument that still stands in New York's Central Park.

And from a Washington Post review of the book (available on the Amazon site linked above):

The infringement of black Americans' rights to their own bodies in the name of medical science continued throughout the 20th century. In 1945, Ebb Cade, an African American trucker being treated for injuries received in an accident in Tennessee, was surreptitiously placed without his consent into a radiation experiment sponsored by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Black Floridians were deliberately exposed to swarms of mosquitoes carrying yellow fever and other diseases in experiments conducted by the Army and the CIA in the early 1950s. Throughout the 1950s and '60s, black inmates at Philadelphia's Holmesburg Prison were used as research subjects by a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist testing pharmaceuticals and personal hygiene products; some of these subjects report pain and disfiguration even now. During the 1960s and '70s, black boys were subjected to sometimes paralyzing neurosurgery by a University of Mississippi researcher who believed brain pathology to be the root of the children's supposed hyperactive behavior. In the 1990s, African American youths in New York were injected with Fenfluramine -- half of the deadly, discontinued weight loss drug Fen-Phen -- by Columbia researchers investigating a hypothesis about the genetic origins of violence.

This is just some of the context that Silber provides for the Wright imbroglio, which, as Silber notes, has been very enlightening indeed:

Reverend Wright has performed an invaluable service, for those able to recognize and appreciate it. He has spoken a number of truths of critical importance -- see here and here for some background on that. And he has also caused a number of people to reveal themselves as significant frauds. I refer, of course, to many liberals and progressives, especially white liberals and progressives. When the moment of testing arrived, many liberals and progressives denounced Wright in terms that are indistinguishable from those employed by writers at National Review, or people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. You would think it might trouble these self-proclaimed liberals and progressives that they find themselves in such company, but it doesn't. This is useful information. Thanks, Reverend.

Get over there now and read the whole thing.

photo of Chris FloydChris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at

This column is republished here with the permission of the author.

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This story was published on May 5, 2008.