Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Having A Conversation

Shelby Steele made points worth making. It is the black perception of themselves as victims (we keep being told that politics are about perceptions) that is the strongest link in the chain that binds them to the past. Senator Obama cannot change being black, but he cannot make the campaign about "The Conversation" without distracting the electorate from issues of more immediate importance to the electorate as a whole: the war, the economy, and the environment.

A conversation has to be two way. Consensus is compromise. If Senator Obama's supporters want to discuss race, they can't just complain. They have to offer solutions.

Reparations? No. That won't change anything. It leads to the same victim mentality that keeps the issue of racism on the table. So precisely what will be considered 'the end of racism in America'? I don't think the textbook definitions from sociology help here, Joy Behar not withstanding. The fact of Senator Obama's successes suggest we are past "oppression of a minority by a majority", a phrase she used to make the claims that blacks cannot be racist.

Puhleeeze... ask Hispanics about that one.

Guilt-proscribing definitions won't further The Conversation. We have to change The Conversation from the past to the future and that means we need to talk about our shared goals.

Perhaps a change of term is needed. Try this: white America does not fear black America. It is intimidated by black culture. Our government does not practice racism if the laws on the books are enforced. But nothing can change the preferences for culture except appeal and excellence.

So now white America might ask itself: what about black culture is intimidating?

I will not vote for Obama. He lacks the depth of character I require for a President at this time. On the other hand, no one is prying my Temptations collection out of my lily white hands. I'm not giving them up. Black music has black soul and black soul is a very powerful force for good and comfort.

Is it really about hate or fear? We've shown we can get past fear. When the ropes came down, when the signs came down, when the neighborhoods integrated, when the mixed marriages became non-notable, we put down fear. I'm not saying there are no racists and that we have eliminated fear. Racism is a disease. It can't be eradicated but it can be made statistically irrelevant and manageable. Polarities are not resolved; they are managed.

Fear has to be conquered by individuals. There is no universal solution.

Hate? Each generation has to decide for itself one person at a time just as they have to understand their fears. The difference is hate inspires violence. Wherever we can use the tools of culture to reduce hate, we must. This must be the goal we share. Culture can be a means. Ask Whoopie Goldberg. Ask Sinbad. Ask Reverend Wright. Ask Obama.

Hate? My advice? Lay it down. Then pick up the prize of love and celebration of distinctions. It isn't enough to quit fearing or hating. In my opinion, racism ends the day we walk into our daily lives and instead of accepting someone for being black or white, we revel in it, we enjoy it, we love it. It isn't about loving them despite who they are, but because of it.

Here's the fun bit: this many years later, we all still know who Tonya Harding is. Few remember Kerrigan and almost no one can pronounce the winner's name.

When politics become entertainment, the news media becomes a ring master. Beware of tigers and clowns.

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