Sunday, February 22, 2009

What do you call a nation that doesn't want to speak about race?

I finally got a chance to read Eric Holder’s “nation of cowards” speech. Contrary to popular opinion Mr. Holder showed a fine sense of the history of the Civil Rights movement (it was down near the bottom, while his “cowards remark was near the beginning, so readers could be forgiven for not noticing Mr. Holder’s actual remarks). I have been struck by something, though. Mr. Holder suggested that we do not now have a quality discussion about race. The comments I have heard about his speech certainly validate that proposition. People have said it is not appropriate for the Attorney General to make these remarks. People have complained about the Clinton administration record on the discussion of race. Tony Norman called Mr. Holder’s remarks “hamfisted”. Chad Hermann complained that Mr. Holder did not give credit to Union Soldiers who died to free his ancestors or to civil rights pioneers (except that Mr. Holder did, but not early enough in his speech to suit Mr. Hermann, who chose to ignore that he had done it). All this commentary on how Mr. Holder spoke, but not much on what he said.

Except for Michelle Norris on Meet the Press, who talked about how there are two dialogues on race in America. The white dialogue, as I mentioned above, is very focused on how race is no longer an issue. African Americans have to take responsibility for themselves now, white America has given them an education and access to jobs, and African America doesn’t try hard enough. Except that the education has been about as low quality as they come, and the jobs are not accessible by bus and rarely open to African Americans anyway. I believe she said the African American dialogue is much more of how some African Americans have gotten ahead, a few have succeeded, but most are still struggling. The struggle for civil rights is far from over, but white America no longer wants to talk about it.


n'at said...

Effing Brilliant! I saw it on C-Span. Our country requires this kick in the ass, especially now. And semi-annually, until we cease to exist.

While approaching his speech from within the scope of our country's history, one can compare, contract and remark on the differing points-of-view. There are three sides to this: native white folk believe electing a black man as president will finally release them of their religious guilt, native (but, seasoned) black folk are elated but know that a metanoia requires
resolve in action and persistence of thought, while the rest of us don't care or are forever bound by parochial thought. Remember, not choosing a side in this matter is making a choice, by default.

However, from afar this can be seen as a proactive measure to dealing with cultural flux/xenophobia/racism - wuteva you wish to label it.

When the BBC and Al Jazeera describe the "evil doers" as young, unemployed, uneducated men looking for a sense of self, an pile of money or a pinch of naan, I wonder when will our own become so despondent as to perpetrate similar actions, or have they already? If so, then why haven't we taken the fight to these "terrorist?"

Or is education, employment or government subsidized sustenance enough to combat these measures?

EdHeath said...

Well, right. All the white TV commentators who criticized the way Holder laid out his argument (the way he said it) are quick to say that they believe in equal rights for all the races, but you don’t have to be unpleasant about it. I mean, I don’t want to oversimplify, but a quick trip through Garfield, through Lincoln-Lemington or the Hill will clue you in that while we may have made some progress, there is still much to do.

Good point about the young, under educated and unemployed minority youth in America. We did have a time in the 60’s and 70’s when there was some organization among youth and some spontaneous riots in major cities, a point where people wondered if their might be a new (and unpleasant) American revolution. But, as the movie titled said, by the bicentennial it turned out we were just dazed and confused. And we still are.

I think the American dream is supposed to combat discontent, even though the American dream is almost as difficult for African Americans to achieve as the Indian dream must be for the residents of the slums of Mumbai. But when people do have decent jobs, they get a stake in their own lives, something worth holding on to. That’s when they clean up their neighborhoods and stop tolerating crime. Unfortunately businesses are contracting right now, not expanding.