Thursday, May 1, 2008

E is for Ego

Never underestimate the fragility of the male ego.

We men love to make fun of the sensitivity of women, but that's just a smokescreen to hide our own vulnerability. It doesn't take much to make a man feel that his masculinity has been challenged and his manhood compromised.

Those of you who attended public school remember how easy it was to get a fight started among boys with just the hint of a mother joke. Often it only took the phrase "Yo momma" to come out of somebody's mouth before young men were blooding each other to prove they weren't punks.

Unfortunately, this behavior carries over to adulthood where men fight and even kill each other over a hard stare. Men may snicker about how easily the friendships of women can collapse, but nobody holds a grudge like a man. We will harbor ill feelings towards another man for years; quietly seething even after we've forgotten the details of the initial slight.

I thought about the male ego as I watched the recent Obama vs. Rev. Wright controversy play out on national television.

I've heard the arguments on both sides. Some folks feel Wright crossed a boundary with his remarks to the National Press Club; that he did not display proper decorum and he was more interested in preening in the spotlight than making any real point. Others feel Obama's willingness to abandon his pastor of two decades is a sign of a serious character defect and they wonder how long they will have to watch him humbly accept the double standards placed on him in this campaign.

I can't decide who is right.

But, I've decided that the most ignored aspect of this whole ordeal is also the root cause of the problem. My observations of Wright and Obama have led me to believe that they are two highly educated, intelligent and prideful men. While Wright may be more boisterous, both he and Obama exude a confidence that demonstrates their extremely high feelings of self-worth. I think both men rarely meet another human being that they feel is their superior.

And that's why we have our current problem.

My belief is that Rev. Wright felt slighted when Barack Obama gave his amazing speech on race and painted Wright's comments during some of his sermons as being beyond what any right thinking American could ever espouse. As the holder of multiple degrees, an avid reader and an expert in his chosen field, I'm sure Wright found it demeaning to have his views dismissed as "profoundly distorted" as Obama did in his speech.

Look, I loved Obama's speech, but I also believed that the majority of the comments made by Wright were excellent and pertinent. I thought Wright's remarks showed the type of insight that I would expect out of any man of God, and his willingness to express those generally unpopular feelings was admirable.

However, the people who will have to support Barack Obama in order for him to be president do not currently agree with Rev. Wright, and probably will never agree with him. That's just a fact. So, in order for Obama to have any chance to win he needed to make it very difficult for a white person to argue that he agreed with Wright's comments.

And I firmly believe that Obama's decision hurt his former pastor, which in turn led to this characterization of Obama.

Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls, Huffington, whoever's doing the polls. Preachers say what they say because they're pastors. They have a different person to whom they're accountable.

As I said, whether he gets elected or not, I'm still going to have to be answerable to God November 5th and January 21st. That's what I mean. I do what pastors do. He does what politicians do.

In turn, I'm really starting to believe that Obama is one of the most optimist but realistic black people in this country. Maybe it's his experiences as a child, or maybe he's just built differently than most black people, but he seems to really have avoided a lot of the pessimism that infects most black folks. Initially, I thought he was fronting a little bit, but the more this campaign drags on, the more I think this is real.

Consequently, I think Obama's ego was bruised by Wright's attempt to label him as just another politician doing what politician's do. As I've said before, I believe Obama is a politician and behaves like one in many ways, but I also think there is something special about him that is atypical. Dennis Kucinich is a politician, but nobody would call him typical.

I also feel that every black person sets their own guidelines for what constitutes an acceptable reaction when faced with white racism. Clearly, Wright and Obama react differently, and neither of them appreciated the other's dismissal of their reactions as phony or ineffective.

Obama obviously felt betrayed by his longtime pastor, and he may have taken Wright's comment as a personal affront to his manhood. Obama also was perturbed by Wright's decision to come forward with his newest comments now; at a pivotal and troubled time in his campaign. Anger bubbled to the surface in Obama's respone.

...At a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that’s enough. That’s a show of disrespect to me. It is also, I think, an insult to what we’ve been trying to do in this campaign...

Obama and Wright both have very real and justified feelings of betrayal. Neither one of them is completely right or wrong. Sometimes you can disagree with people you love and those disagreements can cause pain that you never expected.

But, in this case I think both men have let their expansive egos take over for their immense intellects. Their grievances are real, but they let things go too far; they let things escalate for too long.

Personal pride made it difficult for either of them to truly see and understand the other's pain, and to tailor their responses to address that. More importantly, they allowed media jackals to intrude upon what should have been a private relationship and twist each person's comments until they became hurtful.

A presidential campaign is an intense furnace that can both eliminate dross and also destroy precious materials. It's truly unfortunate that Obama and Wright allowd the heat of the election to distort their feelings because it is yet another victory for the divide and conquer strategy preferred by white supremacists and those who support their theories.

It is disturbing to watch two highly intelligent men allow themselves to be guided onto a path that benefits neither of them, and gives comfort to those parties that undermine their common causes. It's disturbing, but it's honestly not that surprising. Far too many friendships between men have suffered under similar circumstances and far too many will suffer in the future.

That damn ego is a powerful thing.

(Update: Bob Herbert agrees with me)


Anonymous said...

great post on the ego Big Man...

For Wright ego is the only force driving him to defend himself now instead of on say, after November 8 where he could make right with God... And while Obama's ego was clearly hurt, the man must win a nomination, and Wright admittedly knows this -- which is more reason to hold your tongue for 6 more months... Wright is simply too smart a man to speak out this week... I don't know of any other way to perceive it by Obama than betrayal.

OTOH, I believe that Obama's nuanced race speech -- while hurtful to Wright in some areas -- could also be construed as an act of loyalty as Obama put his entire presidency on the line...

while it is completely unfair the way Wright has been treated by the media, I just keep coming back to the fact that Wright is just too smart to speak out at this time and keep the story alive on the cable shows leading into NC and Indiana...

ego is the failure to see the big picture. At its worst it is being a Nadermaniac

Unknown said...

I think that both of these men need to realize that while they're making speeches about each other there are young black (and white) men dying in our inner cities and around the world. Sorry, but we have more important things to think about, talk about and work on than who was mean to who.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile ....

AWESOME. Not one person brought up this mess during an hour long stop in IN, instead they talked about jobs and economy.

Big Man said...

I agree with Lolo and WNG that this isn't a very important issue in the grand scheme of things. Clearly, the media has overblown this whole thing.

Yet, I think this issue has the potential to be divisive for black people. At least that's the impression I got from reading other blogs. Folks are starting to choose up sides, and ultimately that doesn't benefit our community.

Unknown said...

Well go around and smack some heads like V8, Big Man. Remind them that both men are on our side. I'll do the sound effects for you :)

Truthiz said...

Big Man wrote:

“I think this issue has the potential to be divisive for black people. At least that's the impression I got from reading other blogs. Folks are starting to choose up sides,”

(Sigh!)...I had “Hoped” that WE (Blacks) had grown as a people and that the majority of us are smarter than that _because just as you rightly stated Big Man…

“ultimately, that doesn't benefit our community.”

It most certainly doesn’t _not one d*mn bit!

Which begs the question_ are Blacks really ready for the first President of color?

If all it takes for Us to turn on each other (i.e. choosing sides between a Black man who IS running for President and a preacher who ISN’T) _is to allow the White media to PLAY us for Kneegrow fools (?!) _then we haven’t left the plantation at all_and we’re sure as h*ll NOT ready for a Black President!

Millions of Americans are facing REAL problems on multiple fronts; the Worst President in modern American history and his evil-azz minions have mucked this country up and sold ALL hard-working Americans down river.

The first viable Black Presidential candidate rises to the top and all some Kneegrows want to do is “fight”_?!

Shame on them! Nobody’s got time for all their Slave mentality bullsh*t!!!

...and Shame on Obama and Wright for letting this whole thing become a distractive sideshow in the first place!

The Christian Progressive Liberal said...

Obama knew Wright was going to become an issue; he knew it as far back as last February, when he made his announcement and he dis-invited Pastor Wright to the event.

Wright held his tongue, and even when he was interviewed by the New York Times on this issue, he put the reporter who interviewed him on full blast in misconstruing what he had to say in order to make the interview a hit piece on Obama that early in the campaign.

How long is Rev. Wright supposed to hold his tongue, while Obama disavows and disrespects him all the way to the White House?

Yeah, there's egos involved here, but I would go as far as to say Obama is believing his own hype and his responses are indicative of how he's going to govern if he gets elected.

He will not respond to a crisis unless backed into a corner where he has no choice. That is not a good way to govern, regardless of ethnicity.

Even though Bush is the Worst President in American History, you have to respect that he never allowed himself to be backed into corners before he took action.

And if TIME magazine is correct, the fact that Obama's campaign has yet to go into urban America (read; Black Communities), that's so many red flags showing it looks like the Red River. Obama wants to be the Candidate who happens to be African-American; he wants the African-Americans to vote for him without committing to at least look at our interests and concerns as President, because he won't be at fault if life for African-Americans don't get any better on his watch.

Think about that. After the tactics of both Hillary and McCain, I honestly don't know who would be the best choice for the job at this point. I don't know if I'm up to holding my nose and voting for Obama at this point, either.

We must ask ourselves if having a Black Man in the White House at all costs to integrity and personal principles is going to be worth it, when, by his own actions, he has told us that just like any other Democratic candidate, he wants the votes of Black people, but he's not going to give a damn about our concerns once he has accomplished his goal.

I am tired of being hustled for my vote and all I get out of it are good feelings that are momentary in the grand scheme of having to live and survive under the mess Bush has created. Additionally, Obama will get all the blame for the mess Bush is leaving behind, especially if he doesn't clean it up within the first 100 days of his Presidency.

Something else to think about.

Anonymous said...

The story behind the story is where the truth lives. Don't believe the hype!

Big Man said...


I don't think Obama lacks morals or concern for the black community. I do think he is thoughtful and not given to rash actions, yet he has shown that when he does act he typically makes the correct response.

I think there are a lot of people who do not appreciate Obama's style and were turned off to how he handled this Wright thing. I understand those feelings and agree with them to a certain extent. Yet, I cannot absolve Wright for his role in this problem because I felt like he was very culpable.

Ultimately, I think neither man is perfect and both of them allowed their wounded pride to cause them to have a public pissing match that benefits no black person in America.

That's what bothers me the most, that in a time of crisis and a time of opportunity, two powerful black men have engaged in a very public game of Swords. And the black community seems to be willing to go along with this.

Anonymous said...

It's like the parable of King Solomon and the infant though, isn't it?

I mean, we KNOW he won't be elected if he gets boxed as the President of Black America, and that's exactly what Bill was trying for when he made that statement about Jackson winning SC.

So, what do we do? Really? I don't have the same identity at stake, so to speak, as many of you but I DO have something at stake here. It is not about racial transcendence for me here, so you can just take that out. I fully expect that his administration will serve to lift up the issues that are eating at that lives of many black people and I would be disappointed if that turned out not to be the case.

Come on, think on this. Look at where he's been working since leaving law school. Look at the kinds of legislation that he's worked for. While I know that all of us will benefit, hopefully, I also know that issues of truly accessible education, fair sentencing laws, death penalty, jobs, these are things that are more difficult to grasp and hold on to in far too much of the AA community and until we do in fact live in a nation that gives a fair chance to ALL its citizens, until we live in a nation that holds ALL its citizens accountable, EQUALLY, then we and our children are all too poor.

So please, find it in yourself to examine this current noise with as much objectivity as you can find because it's about more than who got what feelings hurt.

Truthiz said...

A slightly “off topic” comment_(and I hope you don’t mind Big Man?)


I’m a Christian and truthiz, before the video clips of Rev Wright emerged, I had never heard of “Black Liberation Theology.”

My personal feeling is_ to the extent that I’m “liberated” at all, it has absolutely Nothing to do with my “Blackness” and everything to do with my spiritual relationship with Christ.

From the research I’ve done on it, Black Liberation Theology 9for the most part) is as lost on me as White Supremacy Theology or Zionist Liberation Theology.

Maybe someone more learned on the subject can enlighten me sometime.

But I agree with CPL. Barack had to have known that, at some point, Wright was going to be a serious “issue” for him. And if he didn’t know it _why the h*ll didn’t he?!

One more nagging point: My understanding is that Oprah Winfrey (the woman who helped convince Obama to run for President)_was also a member of Wright’s church for a minute_but left because it was “too Black” (or something to that effect). Translation: She felt it was "too radical".

I don't care what she says_ Oprah high-tailed it OUT of that church because her biggest fans (the people who made her a very wealthy woman) are middle-aged and old white women. Oprah knew that her “empire” could very possibly come crashing down if those white women ever saw/heard clips of her Pastor_Rev. Wright.

So I wonder_did she even think about what impact it could have on Barack’s presidential campaign?

Or was she just so busy playing “King-maker” that she gave it little-to-no thought at all?!

Big Man said...

From reading Barack's book, it was clear to me that he hungered for the black experience.

I think he joined Wright's church because it provided him with something he would have not accessed in another church and because that was the place where he met God.

Some people have said he joined to get in good with the black community, but I doubt that all prominent black folks went to Wright's church. Plus, I don't see Obama as being that calculating when it came to his faith.

I think he was drawn to every thing that Trinity offered, and while he knew it could be a problem, he felt qualms about distancing himself from an institution that had given him so much just because it was politicall expedient. I know some people view this as a failure in strategy, but I guess I don't see it that way. I think Obama has line drawn in the sand of his mind about exactly which things he's willing to sacrifice, and he does not cast people or things aside easily.

Remember how Obama handled that budding controversy about Michelle's comments about pride in America. He shut that ish down immediately, no debating, no equivocating. He would not let his wife be used to score political points on him. I think he tried to distance himself from Wright as he could, but ultimately had to go further than he really wanted to go because of Wright's actions.

Imhotep said...

Big Man, good read. The media is the problem! First they take 3 sound bites out of a 35 year career. Deamonize the man, his sound bites and everyone else in earshot. Rarely if ever mentioning the vaious ministry that the church carried out over the past 35years.

The media forced Barack to respond to someone elses words. Forced Barack to defend why he attend that church. Made the brother so defensive that he had to speak to the nation about his pastor and race.This was all the media doing.

Why does the person from the minority population have to placate the majority racist population? Why have Hillary or John McCain not have to speak about white privalege and racism in this country? They went to segregated schools,grew up in segregated neighborhood. What's their thoughts on why there are so many black men in jail? or the high high school drop rate? or high black unemployment rate? We don't know their thoughts on these matters because the white MSM give them a pass on matters of race.

The media have tried to dismiss Rev. Wright's years of service to his community, and try to diminish his importance as a person, a Rev. and an american.. He has every right to be pissed.

It's unfortunate that these two well meaning brothers, who have cared about the plight of black people, now have a fractured relationship. This was caused by the white MSM.

If you want to talk about ego, look at the ego of white folks. Their ego will not allow them to entertain ANY thoughts coming from a black person.

Barack, Rev. Wright is not your problem. The media is your proplem, that's who you need to get under control. They control public perception and indirectly the outcome of the election.

Anonymous said...

We are all being manipulated by the media but the one thing I KNOW For Sure is that we will all be in BIG Trouble if Hillary or McCain get in.
We, as a people, need to get a grip
on this before it is too late. Barack, no matter what your perception, is better than either of them!

Anonymous said...

Great post Big Man. This line struck me as very true: "As I've said before, I believe Obama is a politician and behaves like one in many ways, but I also think there is something special about him that is atypical."

I think so too. I listened to his Audacity of Hope audiobook and was quite moved by his points of view.

Anyway, I watched the Bill Moyers interview with Rev Wright and I was very impressed by him. He has a lot of black pride in him (admirable), is very eloquent and explained his points of view well. Any reasonable person would understand where he was coming from when he said what he said. In fact, I watched the full sermons that have been excerpted and I agreed with him. But I've realised that (white) Americans are delusional and think their country is perfect so no one can ever criticise them.

Lastly, I wonder why Barack and the Reverend didn't speak in private, maybe over the phone when all this drama started and work out a strategy together. If they were close for 20 years, couldn't one of them have just picked up the phone and called the other and made a plan for dealing with this before it escalated into what it is now? I'm saddened by it all. I just hope Obama can somehow overcome all of this drama and still win.

Anonymous said...

"As I've said before, I believe Obama is a politician and behaves like one in many ways, but I also think there is something special about him that is atypical."

I also agree with this in many ways. ironically, if he played the full political game no-holds-barred, he would have wiped out Hillary a long time ago... she never would have made it past sniper-fire

Toronto woman: you say about Wright: "Any reasonable person would understand where he was coming from when he said what he said."

The majority of voters are anything but reasonable. And that is the sad truth...

As an aside Wright's speech at The Press Club was a very good one on religion, and virtually every single question had nothing to do with religion

Big Man said...


You ain't lying about the questions. In fact, when Wright pointed that fact out (granted that came after him answering almost a dozen questions) the moderator tried to make it seem like the media was doing Wright a favor to ask him a question about relgion.

I think that's why Roland Martin chastised Wright. From what I understand, Martin told Wright that the media was not going to give him a fair shake, and that he was making a grave mistake by meeting with them on their territory. I think the good Rev thought he had things under control, and was wrong.

As a member of the media, my opinion is that you have set the rules when you deal with reporters and stay the course during any interview. Neither Wright or Obama have been able to do that so far.

Raving Black Lunatic