IN AN audacious display of intellect last week, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright defended himself and his ministry against those who would demagogue him as a hate-monger. A man who spent 36 years building a multicultural and inclusive ministry, and who should be taking a victory lap as he retires, was wounded by the scathing and politically motivated attacks on his character and achievements.

His defense at the National Press Club was not only intellectually sound, but his "performance" was culturally rooted. He defended himself in a uniquely black way. He even acknowledged this when he answered a question about his motivations by saying he was "playing the dozens," a black form of discourse that calls not only for pointed words, but the swagger to back it up.

Many in the mostly white-owned media immediately went on the attack. He was called arrogant, self-serving and narcissistic , among other things, by the talking heads. These words are usually a code for what white people call black people who have the nerve to not know their place. Such a black person in the past, was called an "uppity Negro." This was the most dangerous type of black person because that was the type who would speak truth to power even when that truth was uncomfortable.

He was someone who refused to subscribe to the notion that to be acceptable, white culture and sensibilities must be acknowledged as superior and accommodated at all costs. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Roy Wilkins, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman were called uppity Negroes. When an uppity Negro was found, usually the first thing that would be done would be to find a "house Negro" to attack him.

House Negroes benefited from proximity to the master and would work hard not to offend and to appear non-threatening. The house Negro was often far harsher on the uppity Negro than the master was because his or her very survival depended on the master's approval.

The house Negro prided himself on knowing how to fit into white culture and would often be embarrassed by black people "acting black." They spent their entire lives trying to show white people that they were just like whites, only darker-skinned.

The "house-Negro" mentality has also crept into other cultures, as when gays are embarrassed by the transgendered, and affluent Latinos shrink from gang-banging Chicanos. Playing the role of the house Negro in this tragedy is Barack Obama, with an assist from CNN's Roland Martin.

Obama, in his "defense" of Wright in his Philadelphia speech, compared Wright to his grandmother. That would seem a loving comparison except that he first talked about how his grandmother said racist things and displayed racist behavior. Later, he said he would have left his church if Wright weren't retiring. He then acted wounded and surprised when Wright angrily rejected the defense as being inadequate and pointed out that Obama was being disingenuous.

A New York Times article in April 2007 said Obama disinvited Wright from praying publicly at the launch of his campaign because Wright "could get a little rough in [his] sermons." Thus, for Obama to say that in 20 years of church membership he never heard Wright say the things citedin the media shows him to be as typical a politician as Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. John McCain, willing to lie to get out of a tight spot. He got mad at Wright for pointing out an obvious truth.

Obama then lambasted Wright, and the tip-off of his house-Negro status is that he said he was merely upset by what Wright said, but outraged by a video of Wright's "performance." So it's not what Wright said that really bothered him, but that he acted so black when he said it.

Roland Martin, a black CNN commentator and Obama backer, completed the acknowledgment of Wright as an uppity Negro when he dismissed Mary Frances Berry's insightful analysis of the personal animus behind the rhetoric, and with handkerchief firmly on his head, declared that Wright had better shut up or face dire consequences. Again, another house Negro with nothing near Wright's accomplishments, collaborating to silence an uppity Negro. The chickens have come home to cannibalize. *

Rev. Derick B. Wilson is the senior minister of Healing Stream United Church of Christ in Philadelphia. He can be reached at