Talking About Race

 

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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  1. Profile Photo Podcaster
    @EJHill

    Patrick, you are in need of some serious translation. “Dialog” translated from the Lingua Political into English means “Monologue.”

    As Caucasians who carry the guilt of homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic racism (does that cover all the bases?) we are ineligible to converse about the subject. So, by eliminating one half of a conversation you are left with a lecture that begins, “Nice little country you have here… it would be a shame if anything happened to it….”

    • #1
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    @MelFoil

    I remember going to summer camp in the 1960’s, in Minnesota. We were all white, 90% were Scandinavian. But there was one white kid from North Minneapolis who thought he was black. I think his stepfather was black. If you talked to him on the phone, and couldn’t see him, you’d swear he was black. He loved being black, loved Motown, was down for the struggle. We didn’t have the heart to break it to him that he wasn’t all that black.

    • #2
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    @TheMugwump

    Too often “racism” is confused with problems based more on issues of class. My very middle-class neighborhood features every possible mixture of miscegenated children: Navajo-Polish, Hopi-Chinese, and a large demographic group I call “blue-eyed Hispanics.” The race issue is simply trumped by class considerations, like the bourgeois recognition that we need to maintain the neighborhood to keep up property values. I will tell you from my experience at school that “race” is simply a non-issue for the young.

    • #3
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    @PatSajak
    ~Paules: I will tell you from my experience at school that “race” is simply a non-issue for the young. · Aug 6 at 9:59am

    That’s my impression, as well. And they seem to have arrived at this state without much of a dialog.

    • #4
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    @Midge

    “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.”

    If the capacity of middle-America, white, conservative, protestant kids (that stereotypically “racist” bunch) for mad crushes on kids from other racial or ethnic groups is any proxy for racial harmony, then boy are things looking up! (What I’ve observed is that it’s usually the minority members in interracial attractions who seem more reluctant to date outside their ethnic group — and that’s perfectly understandable.)

    I’m sure someone somewhere could say that a white person admiring and desiring a non-white person is simply a form of colonialism. But to me a crush is a crush!

    • #5
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    @Misthiocracy

    Clearly, Mr Sajak is simply a self-hating honkey.

    I kid! I kid!

    • #6
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    @TommyDeSeno

    The only time I find racism to be a problem is if the racist happens to be a juror.

    • #7
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    @TommyDeSeno

    False accusations of racism have clearly eclipsed acutal racism as the bigger problem in America.

    It’s gotten much worse since President Obama has taken office (despite the promise that we’d be less divided).

    I come from a black neighborhod and went to majority black schools. I’ve never been called a racist until this past year.

    I was at Congressman Pallone’s TownHall meeting. I addressed him politely. I found loopholes in the HealthCare proposal (now law) that would let insurance companies preclude pre-existing conditions (I’m an insurance lawyer). I gave him my research and I asked him to work on closing the loopholes. He said thank you.

    Now if you think about it, I was helping the law, not opposing it.

    As I walked out, not one but two people pointed at me and yelled “Racist!”

    Good grief.

    • #8
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    @KatieO

    Talk about super-sensitivity. I recently went out to dinner w/ a large group of women. After discussing the wine list, I said, “I’ll just order a bottle for the white people”. Meaning those not drinking red. The lady next to me instantly twisted my words into something racially biased. Worse, her comments came just when our waitress (an African American) arrived. Sure everyone at the table knows I’m not a racist, and they had heard what I actually said…but not the waitress. I was mortified. Later, I had the misfourtune of commenting on my dislike for the dyed tortilla chips on the table (you know, red and green at Christmas, red, white and blue for the 4th). I said something like, “I don’t like the colored ones.” I looked up and there was the waitress again. *Sigh*

    Yes, please let’s just talk :)

    • #9
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    @Misthiocracy
    Katie O: I recently went out to dinner w/ a large group of women. After discussing the wine list, I said, “I’ll just order a bottle for the white people”. Meaning those not drinking red.

    LOL! I had a similar situation at an office where I worked. We would employ interns from a local high school to come in during the afternoon for high school credit. One year the kid’s last name was White. The next year his brother applied for the position. During the kid’s evaluation my boss mentioned to the teacher-supervisor how much our office likes the White boys. He then immediate turned beet red once he realized what he’d just said.

    • #10
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    @MelFoil
    Katie O: Talk about super-sensitivity. I recently went out to dinner w/ a large group of women. After discussing the wine list, I said, “I’ll just order a bottle for the white people”. Meaning those not drinking red. The lady next to me instantly twisted my words into something racially biased….. · Aug 6 at 11:08am

    As a teetotaler, I would never have that problem. I always order mine (my beverage of choice) “black, and I prefer Colombian if you have it.”

    • #11
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    @Karen

    How timely! Just this afternoon, while opening the front with my two little ones next to me, a black man stops his car in front of my house and starts yelling and cursing at me for having a McCain sticker on my car. I left the sticker there after the election to show support during the Senate race. I know folks here aren’t big fans, but I like him. Now, I live in a part of suburban MD that would be considered very pro-Obama. He could bite the heads off of puppies on live TV, and they’d still defend him. We’ve lived in this diverse community for 5 years, and I have never had someone behave this way toward me. Many folks around here are deeply invested in Obama’s legacy, and I think as his popularity continues to decline and policies continue to founder that those of us in the loyal opposition will get more of this. I sense tensions rising, but I won’t be intimidated by an Obama thug. It’s alright though, I’m writing a big, fat check to the RNC.

    • #12
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    @Kofola
    Pat Sajak

    ~Paules: I will tell you from my experience at school that “race” is simply a non-issue for the young. · Aug 6 at 9:59am

    That’s my impression, as well. · Aug 6 at 10:04am

    I have to disagree with this somewhat. In the college freshman level American history classes that I teach, race, and its surrounding issues, is one of the rare topics that gets active discussion. The founders, the Constitution, World War I or most anything else results in mostly blank stares, but bring up slavery, etc. and that suddenly reverses. That being said, the idea seems to hold pretty firm amongst my students that racism is consigned to the dustbin of history.

    If I were to qualify one issue that most defines the 1990s generation, it’s the desperation to be the generation to eliminate race as an issue. I suspect that most young people voted for Obama simply because they wanted to see themselves at the forefront of electing the first black president, not because he was “hip” or whatever that narrative claimed. At least, that’s the impression I received from those under 30 that I communicated with on the matter.

    • #13
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    @MelFoil
    Kofola (MC1183)

    Pat Sajak

    ~Paules: I will tell you from my experience at school that “race” is simply a non-issue for the young. · Aug 6 at 9:59am

    That’s my impression, as well. · Aug 6 at 10:04am
    I have to disagree with this somewhat. In the college freshman level American history classes that I teach, race, and its surrounding issues, is one of the rare topics that gets active discussion…..

    If I were to qualify one issue that most defines the 1990s generation, it’s the desperation to be the generation to eliminate race as an issue. I suspect that most young people voted for Obama simply because they wanted to see themselves at the forefront of electing the first black president, not because he was “hip” or whatever that narrative claimed. At least, that’s the impression I received from those under 30 that I communicated with on the matter. · Aug 6 at 11:52am

    Is it interest in race, or interest in the existing spoils system that revolves around race? If the spoils system went away, interest would to, I think. Whether you benefit from affirmative action, or don’t, it matters.

    • #14
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    @Kofola
    etoiledunord

    Is it interest in race, or interest in the existing spoils system that revolves around race? If the spoils system went away, interest would to, I think. Whether you benefit from affirmative action, or don’t, it matters. · Aug 6 at 2:38pm

    The former, at least that’s the way it seems considering these are history courses and affirmative action only becomes relevant as a point of discussion in the 2nd half of the post 1865 course. Most of my discussion questions deal with the issue of race on a broader level. If my student’s general response were to be attributed to something, it would more likely be their high school curriculum.

    That being said, race, as a concept isn’t going anywhere soon. Although I agree that the spoils system helps contribute to it, racial identity goes well beyond the debate over affirmative action.

    • #15
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    @

    As a teacher in Seattle Schools since the late 1960s I have been subjected to those conversations just about every year since 1971. More recently we were introduced to something called “The Courageous Conversation” during which a very well-spoken Black man lectured those of us who were non-minorities on being members of “the White collective”. While most of us were dressed in our jeans, the lecturer wore a suit and shoes that would take a good portion of my annual income to purchase. We weren’t allowed to speak other than to say our mea culpas. That has been to large extent the crux of the problem. When these conversations were held the rules were established by the Blacks giving them all of the power. That isn’t a conversation by my definition, but it is exactly the kind of conversation Holder wants to have with the nation as a whole. It is a cowardly, bullying behavior that has grown well past its time among those of us who have been subjected to it year on year. It isn’t about correction or equality. It is about revenge and real racism.

    • #16
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    @

    The choice of the word “Black” is because Black people have chosen that word for themselves. Negro was the accepted term when I stated teaching in the 1960s, but it was considered by many to be not much better than the “N” word. I agree with your point that language itself can polarize views, but that is too heavily engrained in our culture to change in anything but a Utopian state.

    • #17
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    @

    Paules, like Kofola, I have to take some exception with your statement that race is not an issue for the young. My school is a middle school with a population made up of Asians, Hispanics, Blacks, Pacific Islanders and Whites. The Black kids demonstrate the greatest level of racism. They are equal opportunity racists, freely referring to every other group, including the few Jews we have, in derogatory terms. This also includes Somalis who are not treated as African-Americans, but just one more group to denigrate. Hispanic kids are defensive, but, generally, are not aggressively anti anyone. Conflicts along racial lines are quite common with “gangs” formed for self-defense being largely homogeneous. School suspensions are largely determined along racial lines (disproportionality is always a consideration in determining the appropriate punishment.) This is an inner city school, 95% of the school population is on free or reduced lunch.

    • #18
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    @JimmyCarter

    You “poor lil’ toaster….”

    “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.”

    That is the most confusing paragraph.

    We can’t look at race. BUT We can never be colorblind. And we SHOULDN’T! It’s part of Our heritage. BUT you want to get to the point where color doesn’t matter, but we can never have a colorblind society….. and we “SHOULDN’T.”

    ?????????

    • #19
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    @cdor

    Does anyone think it might help in ameliorating devisivness if we stopped using the completely inaccuraye and polarizing terms “black” and “white” when discussing the Negro and Caucasian races?

    • #20
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    @TheMugwump

    Eugene Kriegsmann: “As a teacher in Seattle Schools since the late 1960s I have been subjected to those conversations just about every year since 1971. More recently we were introduced to something called “The Courageous Conversation.”

    This is a common tactic of the left. I’ve gone through it a couple of times. First, establish guilt, then demand recompense. But you have to buy into it before it works. Most conservatives I know are by now inoculated against this nonsense.

    Your other comment about your inner-city school balkanized along racial lines is understandable. Division is how the bolshies maintain control of captive populations. Our current president is an artful master at this tactic. Social mobility will eventually, at least in part, solve this problem. That’s why the most cynical Democrats deliberately keep the poor in their place. The new plantation doesn’t grow cotton; it cultivates votes.

    • #21
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    @

    For good or ill, “racism” no longer is an accusation that carries much of a charge. Al, Jesse, Charlie, the CBC and all the other race and grievance mongers drained the battery. The left and its enablers in the academy and the media are going to have to think up something else.

    • #22
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    @ByronHoratio

    I think Rush and Jonah Goldberg have made similar points before. Every time the country is on the precipice of one of these sought-after, mythical “dialogs,” the instigators are usually shouted down as a pack of foaming-from-the-mouth racists.

    As Rush said, America has been having a dialogue on race since the founding of the country. Constitutional Convention? Kansas-Nebraska? Compromise of 1850? Bleeding Kansas? John Brown? Lincoln-Douglas? The Civil War? Reconstruction? The history of 19th century America is a near-constant “dialog” on race. I don’t think we need any more dialogs.

    • #23

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