The Attorney General set off a firestorm of controversy today when he spoke up about Americans and their attitudes towards race relations. Mr. Holder said:
“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,...we, as average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.”
This is not a controversial stand. Even Barack Obama tried to distance himself from talking about race after giving his speech in Philadelphia. We, as a nation, simply do not like to talk about the subject in any constructive manner. There is a lot of talk going on about race, but mainly it takes place in homogeneous groups. Whites talk about blacks, blacks talk about Hispanics, Hispanics talk about Asians, Asians talk about whites and so on. Rarely is there a frank discussion between people of different races.
Barack Obama's election as President is not a panacea that fixes all of our race problems. He now takes the place of Bill Cosby as everyone's cool black friend, but that does not change the way that people perceive each other. There were many people who voted for Obama because "he's one of the good ones". The Attorney General was talking about the de facto segregation that takes place on the weekends when people are no longer forced to share the same work space or lunch counter. He was talking about Where people choose to worship, who they choose to associate with and who their kids play with. Mr. Holder said:
"Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009 does not in some ways differ significantly from the country that existed almost 50 years ago. This is truly sad."
I am honestly tired of the controversy that comes up every time someone brings this up. What exactly are Mr. Holder and people like him supposed to say? It feels as if some on the Right would like to say, "you got the Presidency, so shut up about race already". As if that one event has somehow turned us into the Cosby family and friends. Minorities continue to be "mistakenly" shot by cops all the time. The next time I hear of the cops shooting an unarmed white kid from the suburbs will be the first. There was a story on Real Sports this month in which the son of a former major league player was tailed by the cops from a restaurant to his house. The cops mistakenly entered his license plate and got back a report of a stolen car. They stopped him on the front steps of his house, made him get on the floor. When his parents, in their pajamas came out, they were forced to assume the position and when the son protested the handling of his mother, he was shot and almost killed. This happened in an affluent suburb of Houston. Now you cannot tell me that in the exact same situation with a white teenager, that the cops would not have handled that situation differently. That is the reality of being black in America.
The story of the murders of black men during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have gone largely unreported, even though the White people of the neighborhood that the shootings occurred in seem unrepentant and even proud of what they did. That is America. That is what the day to day life is for a black man in America. You walk around with a bullseye on your back. I have had my own run in with the police and I can tell you that my life is held much more cheaply because of the color of my skin. Now should we be talking about this? You're damn right, we should be talking about this. This problem isn't going to go away because we ignore it. Segregation didn't disappear because we ignored it. The Government tried to ignore slavery for 100 years because they hoped that it would just go away. Even the revered Thomas Jefferson himself, while talking a big game about liberty and justice for all, kept slaves until the day he died. Jefferson decided that his generation couldn't solve the slavery issue so he was just going to pass it to the next. It took 60 years for the bloodiest conflict in US history to finally solve the problem.
If we don't talk nothing gets done. If we all just assume that our cool black friend will make everything okay, then we are lost. We have made great strides, there is no doubt about that, however we still have bridges to cross and streams to ford. Now is not the time to take a break from talking about race issues, now is the time to talk about them more than ever. Let's talk about the reasons why such a high percentage of blacks and Hispanics aren't finishing high school. Let's talk about why the teenage birth rate is climbing. Let's talk about why our prisons are disproportionately populated by black men. Let's talk about the cause, not the effect. Let's talk about crumbling schools and hospitals. Let's talk about the cycle of poverty. Let's talk about hopelessness. Let's talk about why the American dream is out of reach for so many. Let's talk about why, we as a country, think that's just fine. Having a Black president is the perfect opportunity to talk about these issues. Let's not miss this chance. I will end with another quote from Mr. Holder:
“It is an issue we have never been at ease with and, given our nation’s history, this is in some ways understandable. If we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.”