Hugh Leonard Thompson Murphy, known to history as Lennie, was born in The Village in East Belfast in 1952, a fanatically loyalist Protestant area ... Now little Lennie was stuck with that quintessential emblem of Paddydom, his very name. Murphy ( from the Gaelic Ó Murchú) is as Irish as "Danny Boy" and as Catholic as the Rosary.
In the lunatic environment in which he grew up there were widespread suspicions - and suspicions in Belfast, like unexploded bombs, tend to tick away if not swiftly disarmed - that his father William, a mild inoffensive fellow, was a 'Teague' (= Catholic, from the Irish name Tadhg =Thaddeus, Timothy). Hence Lennie, carrier of tainted blood, was called "Murphy the Mick" (Mick = Teague)...
Lennie, the emotional type, as will become clear, reacted by becoming Proddier than the Proddiest of the Prods... His obsessive hatred of Papists galvanized an essentially psychopathic nature and by the age of twenty he was slaughtering innocent Catholics at the head of a bunch of thuggish misfits who over the bloody years came to be known as the Shankill Butchers....
Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama come to mind though not because they are psychopathic killers, let me add. They are perfectly sane and not in the least criminal or violent. They are in fact pillars of their community. But they have something in common with the unlovely Lennie - a need to prove to themselves and the world that they are totally committed to their assigned identities. In an historically divided social environment, such as Belfast, fencing sitting was not a recognized way of achieving prestige in one's community or establishing the basis for a political career. Life in general, especially as regards politics and religion, was a zero sum game. ... Unimpeachable political-religious tribal credentials were necessary because absolute loyalty to and identification with the tribe was the be all and end all. ...
Jeremiah Wright, a generation before Obama, had a similar but more subtle problem that might not occur to whites who see all people of African descent as just black. Black people themselves of course are naturally more discerning. ... As anyone can attest who has seen him in his pulpit against the congregation massed behind him Pastor Wright is extremely light-skinned even to the extent that one can easily discern him actually flushing with passion at the more emotionally charged moments of his sermons, a phenomenon not to be observed with the vast majority of black preachers however riled up they get.
This might seem trivial but in the American context it can have significant psychological effects. (This whole question is explored with great subtlety by Philip Roth in The Human Stain, a true American masterpiece.) The 1960s - the seed-time of so many of today's more florid neuroses - was a period when emerging black activists, understandably enough, over-compensated for the shame historically associated with their race by proclaiming an overweening pride in their blackness or rather Blackness. "Black", they declared, "is beautiful", as indeed in so many ways it is because a socially and morally coherent black community is one of the glories of American civilization.
This radical attitude was a necessary corrective to the marginalization by law and by racial stigmatization which blacks had endured for centuries. However this was the Sixties, so in about 3.2547 seconds everyone involved went OTT and healthy radicalism transmogrified into a rabid fanaticism at the core of which throbbed a racism which was the mirror-image of that which it sought to eradicate.
Within this heady scene young Jeremiah Wright, a middle-class graduate of a white Philadelphia high school, was coming into his own. It is not to be wondered at if he felt a psychological imperative to more than emphatically establish his ethnic authenticity in the face - no pun intended - of the paleness of his own complexion when all the cadres of the cause were sporting chic afros the size of the Super Dome and wearing as a badge of honor the very blackness of which he barely possessed enough to bring a scowl to Bull Connor's unpleasing countenance.
He thus became a Super Black, the ranting, rabble-rousing Moses of an Unchosen People for whom no anti-American (because ipso facto anti-white) delusions, however demonstrably paranoid, were off limits.
So, each riding his own distinct yet not very different demons, the pale black Preacher and the half-white black Politician came together and added their own chapter to the Great Adventure that is America. [More]
March 26, 2008
The blog "Chris Matthew's Other Leg" offers an Irish analogy providing some perspective on the molding of the tres cafe au lait Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.: