In Which I Will Become Labeled an Anti-Semite

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

God help us, Marty Peretz posted some thoughts from someone who overlapped with, but did not know, Rev. Jeremiah Wright during the 50’s when they attended the same Philadelphia high school. It’s on The New Republic blog this week, where this someone, Morton Klein, helpfully points out that the good Rev. was raised “in privilege, not poverty.” And his point is…..?

It would be so easy to find TNR articles destroying the played-out notion of affluent, functional blacks as inauthentic that I refuse to dignify the exercise by undertaking it. So, now I’m just gonna tell y’all what his point is, the one for which he used the coincidence of a shared home town as a pathetic cover up. First, his nut graf:

Wright grew up in Philadelphia in

“…a lovely neighborhood to this day. Moreover, Rev. Wright’s father was a prominent pastor and his mother was a teacher and later vice-principal and disciplinarian of the Philadelphia High School for Girls, also a distinguished academic high school. Two of my acquaintances remember her as an intimidating and strict disciplinarian and excellent math teacher. In short, Rev. Wright had a comfortable upper-middle class upbringing. It was hardly the scene of poverty and indignity suggested by Senator Obama to explain what he calls Wright’s anger and what I describe as his hatred.

My, oh my. Where does one begin?

Knowing both the magazine and many of the folks who work or worked there (I jumpstarted my career freelancing for them; they’re good friends), I’m going to guess that Marty’s blog is untouchable. And, that this post is likely unreadable to most of the people there. The premise itself—Wright wasn’t born the proverbial poor, black child and therefore can’t be angry but merely racist—can only induce groans and energetic eyeball-rolling. Perhaps the writer is unaware of Dr. King’s Brahmin background, almost identical to Wright’s? Except even higher ranking.

King was black royalty. He was a bon vivant party boy, cavorting around in expensive suits, convertibles, and (it must be said) white girls, until the elders told him it was time to put away childish things and assume the family mantle. He didn’t ask to pastor a church in war zone Montgomery so he could lead the bus boycott. He was ordered there and shit happened. So, if I remember my Logic 101, by Klein’s argument the dapper ladies’ man King also had no right to be angry. Wright’s father a “prominent pastor?” His mother “a strict disciplinarian and excellent math teacher?” In the 1950s? How dare he?

I don’t know Morton Klein, but I assume he’s well-educated enough to know that those two roles—prominent minister and school teacher/vice-principal—meant only one thing from 1900-1970: a power couple keenly aware of racism and steeped in the fight for civil rights. They were the political and moral leadership. They were deferred to and consulted with on all community issues. They were our best and brightest seeing as how we had a tad bit of trouble winning office or, like, staying alive.

But I think the author does know. He certainly knows that life for blacks in the 1950s, educated or not, North or South, was no picnic.

This part is disgusting:

“[Wright] could have gone to an integrated neighborhood school, but he chose to go to Central, a virtually all-white school. Central is the second oldest public high school in the country, which attracts the most serious academic students in the city.”

So, the black 8th grader Wright, with two highly educated parents in the segregated 1950s, was such an Uncle Tom that he refused to go to a less rigorous school with his own people? Weird, since he knew that in 2008 he was going to have to answer for the pre-teen choices he made under Jim Crow.

The point, ladies and gentlemen? The point is that the piece was penned by Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, who hates Wright for blaming America “for supporting Israeli ‘state terrorism against Palestinians,’ ” and for receiving a lifetime achievement award from Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan.

Affluent Jews can care about Jews in another country, but affluent blacks can’t care about Watts? This would be kind of funny if the stakes weren’t so high; I usually have fun with ‘thinking’ like this but not while the fight over Wright rages. This is a time for honorable people to set standards. If Klein was a man of honor, he’d have skipped the first half of his post and only debated Wright for his stance on Jewish issues. Nothing wrong with that. But claiming that Wright couldn’t possibly understand racism and poverty since he got to go to a nice high school with pre-Buppie parents is just another version of oppression one-upsmanship with the loser thrown out of the lifeboat, silenced. Not just outranked, but denied a place in the nation’s attention.

Peretz claims to offer this choice nugget as “a contribution towards understanding this strange but apparently common type of preacher.” Preachers, preachers everywhere: Whose fault is it that you never paid attention to what they were saying between all those gospel songs we’ve entertained you with for so long?

The sad part is, all the ‘typical’ white people will skip the pro-Jewish part and just glom onto the black-people-shut-up part. In fact, I expect to be seeing this “argument” regularly now.

I usually have to hit the National Review, Coulter, or Fox to find my intellect and my morals so offended; now I have a new blog to avoid.

Two final, not at all rhetorical, questions: Shouldn’t these sorts of attacks be beneath all of us by now? If you want to debate Israel and Farrakhan, debate Israel and Farrakhan. But this?


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and billionaires wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2024 demands.

payment methods


Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2024 demands.

payment methods

We Recommend


Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.