I spent Sunday at Abyssinia Baptist Church. It may have been the most "African-American" service I'd ever seen--emphasis on both halves of the hyphen. The service began with the choir singing "Lift Every Voice" and ended with them singing "We Shall Overcome." There was this weird inversion of the past--plenty of whites in attendance, and some Asian cats also. But virtually all of them were seated up top in the balcony, and I was left thinking about the days when blacks had to sit in the balcony for movies and plays. This wasn't intentional, but the the bottom rows filled up fairly quick with regulars, and the top was all that was left.
There was the most beautiful choral music, I mean the sort of choral music that made me wish Primo or Rza were sitting next to me digging for samples. Forgive my fumbling here, I did not come up in the church so words may fail here. What I want to say is the music sounded very Westernized, the sort an ignoramus, like me, would expect to see white folks singing. But it was beautiful, and in fact had been authored by a black woman, "Non Nobis Domine" was the piece, I think.
Butts ripped shop of course. He's an awesome preacher. Maybe there's hope for a heathen like me, yet. But much of the sermon was fixated on Rupert Murdoch and last week's cartoon. And then yesterday, I was in D.C. for a panel at the Aspen Institute, and many of the questions revolved around the Post cartoon, the New Yorker cartoon, and Eric Holder's "nation of cowards" quote. The questions in the air seemed to be, who should be offended and how much? I, mostly, defended the New Yorker, saying I thought the cover was pretty bad, but evidence of a plot was wanting. I didn't really defend the Post, so much as I couldn't find my way into the offensive.
Perhaps I shouldn't address this--for whatever reason bad cartoons just don't boil the blood around these parts. Still, I kept thinking about it, and it hit me when I saw this video below. John McCain tries to knife Obama at yesterday's event. It's not that raising the cost of the helicopter is illegitimate. But that stupid, passive-aggressive grin comes over him just as he delivers the line. We've all seen that grin before--it's usually paired with a "my friends." But later for that, watch Obama's response. Classy. Cool. And funny. He's not concerned with whether McCain is trying to knife him or not. He's beyond it. I think there is a serious lesson for black folks in the manner in which Obama handles opposition--the legitimate opposition, but especially the illegitimate opposition.
More than any black public figure in recent memory, Obama understands the problems with a strategy premised on taking offense. It's not that Obama never takes umbrage, it's that he's careful about what and when he takes umbrage. I don't really know what the line is. But I know taking offense at calling the stimulus bill a spending bill hits people in a way that, say, taking offense at Michael Steele wouldn't.
There a certain sect of the American commentariat which believes black people complain about the country too much. Usually this same sect spends their time complaining about the country even more. I'm not down with that. But I think all of us should think hard about what we take offense, why, and what good ultimately comes of it. Apologies, I guess. I'm not sure that cartoons are worth our time. But governors denying unemployment benefits to tax-payers, in order to build some political cred, certainly is.