Tuesday, April 29, 2014

An honest discussion

There have been political advances.

The very fact that we have an African American president renders that indisputable.  Sadly, we can see from recent events that the issue of race is still a pox upon our nation.  Let's take a quick look at just a few news items from the past four months or so.

In December of last year, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty (a show I admittedly have never watched but it is apparently quite popular for reasons that pass understanding) asserted that black people were "happy" before the civil rights movement.

Rancher Cliven Bundy, while endearing himself to conservatives in a dispute with the government over federal land and grazing (a dispute, incidentally, that carried the implications that it's okay to offer armed resistance to officers of federal law, but that's a whole other rant of mine for another time), decided to (paraphrasing), "tell us one more thing he knows about the negro."  The "knowledge" imparted thereafter had something to do with subsidized housing and picking cotton (yeah, I'm not making that part up.)

This week, finally, we come to the story of Donald Sterling.  Sterling owns the Los Angeles Clippers and was caught on tape making a whole string of racist remarks.  As of today, this spectacular display of obliquity has earned him a lifetime ban from the NBA.

Like many others, I'd like to believe that racism is dying out.  You might even be able to make the terse and slightly insensitive argument that it is on its way to dying given the ages of the three men I just mentioned.

I wish that were true.  Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of my favorite writers at The Atlantic (or anywhere else for that matter), wrote a skewering send up of the underlying sense of white supremacy in certain sectors of our governance by leading with a captured tweet of Congressman Patrick Garofalo.  Garofalo is a Minnesota Republican who last month tweeted: "Let's be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in streetcrime."

He's my age.

What should we do about it?  I keep hearing the refrain of "We need to have an open and honest discussion about race in this country." Indeed dialogue is one of the problem solving tools of the thinking person.  Great.  When?  Where?

Well, right now might be good and as for the where, our educational institutions would seem a logical fit.  But I'm here to tell you that even at the level of higher ed, there's a lot of fear.  There are educators who see the issue as so volatile, so sensitive, and so laden with genuine and justified pain that any queries or intentions can easily be misunderstood.  Even something as factually rooted as the reading of slave narratives carries its dangers.  I can only imagine what the level of apprehension is towards this subject at the high school level.  Words like "lawsuit," "suspension," and "termination" make great conversation killers.

So...when and how again is this conversation happening?


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