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Earlier this year Attorney General Eric Holder said there was “still a need for dialog” about race. I’m beginning to think he may have gotten it exactly wrong, and that there may be a need for less dialog on the subject. Actually, it was something he said later in those same comments that made more sense: “People feel uncomfortable talking about racial issues out of fear that if they express things they will be characterized in a way that’s not fair.” He’s right about that, but I think we’ve arrived at this point of uncomfortableness precisely because of our continuing national dialog.
Growing up in Chicago in the early 1960s, I attended a high school in which I was part of the minority; more than ninety-percent of the students were black. I say that not to try to introduce any of my bona fides on the subject of race relations, but to make the point that race was a more comfortable subject in that high school than it is in 2010 America.
On my game show recently, an African-American contestant mentioned that he could teach anyone to be a Hip-Hop singer. I leaned over to him and stage-whispered, “I’m sorry, but I’m hopelessly Caucasian.” It was a joke on me and my lack of “hipness” and my white bread image, but I found myself re-examining the line later. Was I engaging in stereotyping? Could my remarks have been offensive? Would viewers be uncomfortable with what I said? I decided it was a harmless (and somewhat amusing) little comment, but it was the fact I gave it any thought at all that troubled me.
I fear we’re all becoming super-sensitized on the subject of race precisely because we focus on it too much rather than too little. As an older white male, I’m not sure just how qualified I am to say it, but I think there’s little doubt that racism has diminished dramatically in this country, especially among the last two generations. Does racism still exist? Of course it does, and it always will among some people, just as ignorance and evil will always exist in some. But it seems to me we’ve reached the point at which racism is considered, at the very least, unacceptable. We will never be able to eradicate every last vestige of it, just as we can’t completely rid ourselves of any evil.
At some point, however, we have to stop looking at everything through the prism of race. We can never have a colorblind society, and we shouldn’t. Color, like language, is a part of our heritage. The idea—or so I thought—was to get to a point where the color doesn’t matter, but we’re in danger of making it matter more than ever.
We don’t need more “dialog” or anything else quite so high-sounding; we need to be free to live and react and experience each other without thinking about every word and every action and examining them for hidden motives. Though I may be “hopelessly Caucasian,” I still believe we’re on the right track in terms of race relations, and I don’t think we’ll ever go back. But we’re at the point where we’re more likely to reach the station through evolution rather than legislation.
So, no dialog, please. Let’s just talk.
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