So Much for ‘Conversation’ on Race

Ben Smith, Politico, July 21, 2010

The election of Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was supposed to be a sign of our national maturity, a chance to transform the charged, stilted “national conversation” about race into a smarter and more authentic dialogue, led by a president who was also one of the nation’s subtlest thinkers and writers on the topic.

Instead, the conversation just got dumber.

The America of 2010 is dominated by racial images out of farce and parody, caricatures not seen since the glory days of Shaft. Fox News often stars a leather-clad New Black Panther, while MSNBC scours the tea party movement for racist elements, which one could probably find in any mass organization in America. Obama’s own, sole foray into the issue of race involved calling a police officer “stupid,” and regretting his own words. Conservative leaders and the NAACP, the venerable civil-rights group, recently engaged in a round of bitter name-calling that left both groups wounded and crying foul. Political correctness continues to reign in parts of the left, and now has a match in the belligerent grievance of conservatives demanding that hair-trigger allegations of racism be proven.

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“There’s a kind of heightened racial consciousness that’s very worrisome. It’s not good for us, it’s not good for the very fabric of American society,” she [Abigail Thernstrom, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights] said, objecting in particular to the claims of racism against the tea party movement.

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“This is the way race plays out all too often these days–as soon as the accusation of racism is made, good will, the benefit of the doubt, presumption of innocence all go out the window. It’s seen as a virtue to jump to the least charitable conclusion when the issue is race–those who reserve judgment are accused of naivete or complicity,” he [Richard Ford, a law professor at Stanford and author of “The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse.”] said.

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The recent public flaps “tell us that all the talk about post-racialness aside, the race question is still a burning question in American life. People will use it in all sorts of different ways. But it doesn’t surprise me,” said Harvard Law School Professor Randall Kennedy, author of “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.”

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