Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Endless Discussion of Race

The election of a bi-racial man to the nation's highest elective office was a seminal moment in the history of this nation. That the previous two Secretaries of State were also African-American hinted at the progress we have made; Barack Obama's election put an unusually strong exclamation mark on it.

Interestingly enough, President Obama played the racial card both ways during the campaign--and in neither sense do I see anything negative in it. He worked hard to declare himself "post-racial" and to urge the nation to "move beyond" faded paradigms of race and politics. He openly appealed to white voters across the country--just as he appealed to black, brown and yellow. Conversely, his candidacy was consumed with race. With almost nothing to fall back upon in terms of experience, Barack Obama ran as an autobiography, the story of a man whose race(s) dominated his experience on this planet to an extraordinary degree. Additionally, his status as a bi-racial man in no small part aided his run for the Presidency. His thin resume in a white man yields, well....John Edwards.

Now--just weeks into his candidacy--his Attorney General (the first black AG) Eric Holder tells an audience that we are a "...nation of cowards..." when it comes to talking about race, and that the "conversation" on race must continue. News this morning is that the dialogue will continue and expand. The only conclusion I can reach in this is that there is a sense within the Obama Administration that there is insufficient attention paid to the matter of race in American, and it is their job to stir it up.

I disagree. Our nation has faced up to its scandalous past and has emerged better and stronger. Enslavement of fellow human beings and the deprivation of civil rights were great blights upon the honor and goodness of this nation, and that we struggled mightily to overcome them both is to our credit. Lingering racism has been reduced to the irreducible sum of that which individually exists within human hearts, rather than the government sponsored and sanctioned variety that dominated our history for so long. We are a different nation, and it is time to recognize that.

The problem now is that there are simply too many people whose lives and careers are invested heavily in the race industry, an industry whose life blood is division. Such investment leaves race merchants blind to the true progress that has been made and unwilling to consider the possibility that their usefulness has waned. Many people (myself included) believe that Barack Obama's election shows better than any other sign just how far the issue has come, and just how silly it is to keep talking about "how far we have to go". Rinku Sen--quoted in the article linked to here--sees it differntly. "I think that the line is, 'We've elected the black president, and now we're post-racial and everybody should just shut up.' It's very dismissive," Sen said. "We did elect the first black president, but people seem to forget that it was a hard campaign."

A hard campaign? You mean harder than Bush v. Dukakis (Willie Horton) or Bush v. Gore (recount, Supreme Court)? But then, what's so bad about a hard campaign? We are after all, electing the leader of the free world. By what measure was it hard? It could not possibly have been press coverage of the minority candidate--I think we can all agree he was well-treated at the very least. No, the bottom line is that Rinku Sen's life and prosperity depends on the notion that the "conversation" must continue and that "we have far to go". All evidence to the contrary.


Anonymous said...

Jewish Holocaust survivors and their children. Japanese-Americans interned in camps in WWII. What do these two groups appear to have in common? They seem to harbor little bitterness and rancor toward their horrific treatment and want to put the past behind them.
Contrast that with African Americans today. They are desperate to remind us of how awful the treatment of their people was (and no question, it was bad). But they're in no way eager to move on from that. I agree with your second to last paragraph-what would Al Sharpton do if he couldn't get up each day and search for examples of racism? He wasn't offended by that NY Post cartoon-I bet he was ECSTATIC about it.

Anonymous said...

Unlike the period of Japanese internment or the Holocaust, racism in America is not a bounded event that occurred in the past and those who are living it today can't 'move on.'

Anonymous said...

Ghost, my point was that instead of looking at all the positive progress that has been made, African Americans are perfectly happy to refer to the injustices that they've suffered in the past. You can understand that in older generations, but there aren't quite the same barriers anymore for younger African Americans. But if you remind your kids that 'you can't get anywhere in this white man's world,' or you sit in churches where the pastor refers to this country as the USKKKA of America, then that attitude lives on and we NEVER will move forward.

Mudge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Mudge, I understand the concern expressed in your comment:

" practice Webster's racism because you do it primarily from the deep-seated sense that no matter what, a black person in these United States of America is incapable, INCAPABLE of, well, "moving on". Incapable of moving on? Incapable of rising above his environment? Would you deprive a white person of such a simple human achievement? Please."

I just want to clarify that when I wrote "those who are living it [racism] today can't 'move on,' I was responding specifically to Sally's concern that "African Americans today are in no way eager to move on" from fixating on the awful treatment in the distant past in the way that Holocaust survivors and Japanese Americans have moved past specific events in their histories. Contrasting event-related atrocities bounded by a specific time and place with long-term ongoing and current bias, and using the phrase 'move on' in the same way Sally had done.

I wasn't suggesting that any group of people are unable to overcome obstacles placed in their environments or absolving them of accountability, no matter how systemic and entrenched the bias against them.

Mudge said...

Ghost, I removed my post shortly after posting because it violated Sally's brevity clause and because it ultimately was too confrontational to someone, you, who merely expressed his position (or her, not sure if you are a ghost or ghostess). I enjoy a vigorous debate, but I felt my comments went a bit beyond vigorous. Your words pushed a button, or more accurately, I caused myself to get riled over your words because they are reflective (to me) of people who, from the security of their suburban sanctums, for years made excuses for behaviors where no excuse was warranted and that the sole reason such excuses were proferred, was because of the skin color of those whose behavior was in question (and the "well, they really can't help it...what other choice do they have" mentality). If a white man violates the law, I want to see him held to account. If a black man violates the law, I want to see him held to account. The difference is that when I apply the exact same standard to each man's BEHAVIOR, my ability to be fair and impartial solely because of the man's skin tone paradoxically is called into question. Clearly, that irritates the hell out of me. And it was that kind of "racism" about which I was railing. To that extent, Atty Gen Holder's comments COULD be right (although that was not his intent), much of white America is TERRIFIED of talking, really talking, about that kind of racism. The kind where we say, there is a serious problem with the number of black males between 16-25 in our prisons today. And it isn't because their ancestors were sold as slaves. Maybe, just maybe, it is because they use their ability to choose in ways that put them there. To say they have no choice is to say they are less capable human beings. When we can ALL say that "he is in jail because he chose to assault that vendor and steal his money" rather than "he was just trying to get his life in order and how else can he do it living in the projects and all." But that discussion is one very few white people have interest in having. I don't know you Ghost (or at least I don't think I do) so I am not saying you are one of the people I describe above. I have no idea what your philosophies are, what you do in life to make this a better world, where you live and whether or not I would even like you. To have taken one of your very brief comments and turned it into a public confrontation was irresponsible of me. My behavior was irresponsible. I had a choice to behave responsibly and I chose otherwise. Since my attempt to correct it by omitting my post was ineffective in correcting that behavior, I offer my public apology in hope that it will at least leave you feeling acknowledged. And to Sally, I know, this is too long. That is a behavior that I chose to do anyway.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

I banish Sally's comments on length forever! Blather on, readers, blather on.

As for Mudge and Ghost, I have known Ghost for oh, 25 years (she's a she) and Mudge for nearly 20. Two better humans there aren't, and the level of discourse here is evidence of their worthiness, intellect, compassion and civility. Both are the best.

Anonymous said...

So what I conclude Halloween Ghost is that the "chip on the shoulder" mentality will never go away. Even the programs meant to "even the score" serve to remind and promote the grudge. The race hustlers and pverty pimps will always be with us demanding more and more.

"Not a penny for tribute" comes to my mind when dealing with these new Barbary pirates.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

Since I try to drum up business for the site by posting links to good posts on Facebook, often times folks there chime in.

What I'm finding there is a common refrain...that there is still racism in America, ergo we have to stay vigilant. Oh, and because you haven't felt it personally, you're really not in a position to judge.

A couple of things. Again, simply reading my post should lead the reader to conclude that I too, believe racism still exists. I refer to it however, as the "irreducible sum of that which individually exists within human hearts, rather than the government sponsored and sanctioned variety that dominated our history for so long." Is this in dispute? My critics basically say, "well, it still exists, so we won't "move on". IT doesn't has changed, from state sponsored deprivation of rights to individually based fears and biases in behavior. To ignore the monumental difference in race relations in this country in the past 40 years by concentrating on what is LEFT to do--aided and abetted by the modern merchants of racism (Sharpton, Wright et al)--defies credulity, kind of a "well other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play" approach to the issue. Far too many people are far too invested in keeping the specter of pervasive racism alive for it to die of natural causes (or become what we've always known it to be--weakness manifested in individual fears and biases).

Some believe I am unfit to comment because I don't walk around in black skin, that I ignore the reality of their everyday existence. Perhaps. But since I am unlikely ever to live life as a black man or woman, I do the best I can with what I can--evaluating the evidence in the world around me. I ask that my critics do the same.

Anonymous said...

I live in Wash DC. My son has attended DC Public Schools and now an incredibly integrated and diverse DC Charter school. By integrated, I mean not only racially, but also economically. His best friends cross all racial groups AND economic groups. However, they cannot sit together in the cafeteria because the school is too underfunded to afford ... Instead, they eat lunch at their desks (they have no playground either and use the woods for PE). If the personal is political, I believe my son and his classmates' families are following through on true integration in DC- race and class. Attorney General Holder also lives in DC. His school age children attend upscale private school. If the personal is political, who is really having an impact? If the personal is political, Attorney General Holder, who is the coward?

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