Friday, July 31, 2009

In Conclusion, The Recap On Race

So class, what did we learn today?

There are many conclusions and inferences (some founded, some unfounded) that can be drawn from the recent events surrounding the Gates arrest. Whereas the respective camps who fundamentally and vehemently disagree about race relations in America have likely dug their collective heels in as to who was "right" and who was "wrong" in this particular Gates-Crowley controversy, the focus should and must shift away from the "trees" of this case in order to truly discover the valuable lesson provided by the "forest" here. When we place this one case into the larger context of race and our concepts of a so-called post-racial America, it becomes clear that America has come a long way in terms of acknowledging and dealing with its original sin: race. Likewise, it also becomes equally clear that America still has much work to do in order to avoid not only situations like these, but the swath of derivative racial backlash that is invariably produced in the aftermath whenever the media covers a story on this taboo topic.

And why is it so hard for us to talk about race? Why does simply uttering the word "race" or "racial" or "racism" automatically elicit such a negative and divisive response in America? Why does it cause ears to close up and conversations to shut down?

In my short time on this planet as a child of a diverse heritage spanning the chasm between "Black" and "White," I have learned to see things through the the lens of both perspectives, and in so doing, I would like to share a few observations on race in America that may lend themselves to at least partially answering the question of why it is so hard for Americans to talk about race and how we may at least attempt to overcome it.

Perhaps it is difficult for us to talk about race because of the guilt associated with being labeled as a "racist" when you know you're not but you're still a little unsure as to why you prejudged a person in a certain way. Perhaps it is because of the unfair and inaccurate presumption that only White people can be racist. Perhaps it is because of the many cries for "wolf" over the years by Blacks and other minorities that have muddied the waters and prevented us from being able to distinguish actual racial injustice from mere racial grand standing/opportunism. Perhaps it is because it is difficult for a White majority to understand or recognize the history of how it came to be a majority in America in the first place. Perhaps because it is difficult for Blacks to ever really and truly know to a substantial certainty whether they were passed over for a promotion because they simply did not work hard enough, or whether they were passed over on account of their race. Perhaps because it is difficult for Whites to accept that "racism" is not a figment of the imagination that only exists in the collective minds of Black people.

But most importantly, I feel it is difficult for us to discuss the topic of race in America because by and large, it is difficult for Whites to view the issue of race through the eyes of Blacks, and it is likewise difficult for Blacks to view the issue of race through the eyes of Whites. Far too often, we become so entrenched in our own racial perspectives that we end up exacerbating a situation instead of diffusing it.

Chief Justice John Roberts once said “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." In a vacuum that sounds like a noble idea, however before we rush out to give Roberts the Nobel Peace Prize, its important to understand what he actually meant. What he meant was that we need to stop considering race, or to put it more succinctly, stop talking about it. With all due deference to the Chief, I categorically reject that line of thinking.

I submit that the most important thing we can do to overcome the issue of race in America is quite simple: talk about it. Don't run away from it. Don't try to sweep it under the rug. Don't get upset and throw your hands in the air and walk out of the conversation room because somebody said something you don't agree with. This country has existed for slightly over 200 years, folks - the issue of race is not going anywhere anytime soon. And just like the proverbial thorn in one's side, ignoring it for another 200 years is not going to magically make it go away. So the sooner we address the pink elephant in the room, the better we'll all be for it.

Situations like the Gates arrest can do 1 of 2 things: (i) bring us into discussion together or (ii) separate us into different corners. I chose the former and I reject the latter as an all to convenient cop out. I applaud President Obama for publicly addressing the elephant in the room (especially in light of how many political points he will lose for doing so) and I recognize it as merely one step among many in order to help this country get to the point where racism and its recalcitrant disciples are relegated to an extremely small, insignificant, and discarded portion of the American population.

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