Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is an Honest Conversation About Race Even Possible?

Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer
Greetings readers of The Urban Politico. I'm back from my marriage hiatus and full of stories to tell. Apologies all around to you and my blog partners for my absence, and two middle fingers to Blogger for losing my post before I left. But now that we are firmly up to speed in this interweb life of ours let's get to the goods.


We here at The Urban Politico get solicited a lot. Most of it's spam. Sometimes it's an opportunity to expand our blogging horizons. Sometimes it's just a good post.  What we are going to discuss today falls of course into the latter category.

Last week we were contacted about a piece written in New York Magazine by Frank Rich. The piece was a review of the play Clybourne Park through the lens of current racial and political events happening in the country. As I flipped through the digital pages on my iPad I wasn't quite sure what the person who contacted us wanted us to discuss. Quite honestly we could have re-posted the entire article and let you all have at it. But alas we're smarter than that. But so, too, was this article. Rich tackled in five digital pages what we cover every day. We were eye to eye and I, The Storyteller, for once was at a loss for words. That is until I came to the last page of the piece.

"By the second act of ­Clybourne Park, everything is on the table, including slavery, the American stain that neither time nor civil-rights advances can ever erase. “We get it, okay?” says the exasperated white homebuyer when that past rears up. “And we apologize. But what good does it do, if we perpetually fall into the same, predictable little euphemistic tap dance around the topic?” To which a black man of the neighborhood association sneers, “You know how to tap dance?” 
And so the tap dancing continues—verbally, that is—as both the white and black characters work hard not just to offend each other but to take offense even when none is intended. Both Norris’s andHansberry’s white men put great store in resolving conflicts by talking things out—to “say what it is we’re really saying …,” as one Clybourne line has it. "
A light bulb went off at this last line. "Say what it is we're really saying...," When have we as Americans ever done that; especially where race is concerned? The answer would be never. So I wonder is that brutally honest, no holds barred conversation on race even possible.

For those of you that don't know, I live in Jacksonville, Florida. My city right now is at the center of two racial cases that may start a riot on the North, East and West sides of this city at a moment's notice. To bring you up to speed in case you live under a rock: Marissa Alexander? That case is here. The Trayvon Martin case's "special prosecutor?" She's from here too. I live in a southern conservative city home to the African-American female Republican Lt. Governor and a Tea Party billionaire Governor who barely escaped federal charges for Medicaid fraud.

I work in an environment charged with sorting out the facts even though strong opinions on any topic are bound to get involved. If I proposed to have an honest conversation about race with some of my co-workers, many, I will assume, simply would not understand.

It is not that they are dense or obtuse. The exact opposite is true. I work, for the most part, with really bright and informed people. People who are so informed they have bought into the belief that race, for the most part, is not a problem and that eventually all this pisstivity will blow over. Too bad this belief is completely to the contrary of reality.

As Americans we as a group of united citizens are good at pretending race doesn't matter. You're my Wigga, I'm your Nigga, and Kumbaya, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. When in reality when you go into a bad neighborhood and see a suspicious character in a hooded sweatshirt you lock your doors unconsciously. If I go into a nice neighborhood, where I happen to live, in a nice car I expect the unmarked Crown Vic traveling at a safe but close distance behind me or my husband to pull either of us over and ask repeatedly if the car I'm in is stolen and whether or not I'm under the influence or have influences in my car when I'm clearly in work attire (most times) headed to an empty newsroom to be First For You (company slogan).

We all pretend these scenarios don't happen. We pretend suspect sketches aren't released with descriptions reading Black male, tattoos, facial hair and no other discerning characteristics about the suspect sought. We all pretend President Obama's election made us so post racial we're post post the current race reality. We all pretend White on Black violence is worse than Black on Black violence when in reality we're so concerned with being p.c. we'll hate on ourselves harder and more often than any bullet from the barrel of a gun of a man of another race ever could.

We're so good at pretending we'll take Bruce Springsteen's "41 Shots" and Jay-Z's "Hard Knocks" and nod our heads to the different beats unequivocally understanding the problem but refusing to reach out and touch the other next to us to discuss an actual solution.

Black people, we'll shake our heads at Barney Frank and Geraldo, then turn around and tell our young boys:

"No hoodies, no baggy jeans, no white T's."
"What am I supposed to wear?"
We as Americans don't talk about race. We react to it. We react to darkness, lightness, whiteness, tanness, and luminescence. We react to children of slaves and slave masters, well meaning history lessons that embarrass, discriminate and scar a child for life. We react to the stars and bars, anniversary celebrations, dangling ropes, crackers and cartoons. We react but we never talk.

When it is time to discuss. When it is time to just "say what it is we're really saying...," our mouths go mute. The President, civil rights leaders, the ACLU, negro lovers, and white sympathizers can't simply call for a discussion and encourage people to be more open minded and honest and then hold seminars on the State of Black America only on TVOne and BET. Soledad O'Brien can't just pimp her popularity and the Black community for the high falutin' audience of CNN of whom many are just trying to  not specifically be Black or White (word to Idris Elba).

This conversation, if it is to ever happen, can't begin from the top and most visible down. It can't be held in only one race's circles. Due to the FCC's rules on obscenity it can't be broadcast over an easily accessible network. This conversation, if it is to ever happen, must begin from the bottom up in classrooms, during traffic stops, on street corners, and if truly necessary in boardrooms where adults can settle their differences and not second guess themselves or their race for their behavior, rank or position.

This conversation can't only happen in the underground when controversial films, plays, or books are released. We are doing everyone in this country a disservice by being dishonest about our collective issues of what is more than just Black and White. If we continue down this beaten path our racial future will include more tinder box moments of racial strife, while the actual conservations to understand and heal from the pain of the past will be little more than un-cosigned hype.


1. Can an honest conservation on race ever take place?
2. Is it possible to just exist as a person and not as a race or ethnicity?
3. Can post-racialism ever exist?
4. Your thoughts. 

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