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February 19, 2009

Are We "A Nation of Cowards" on Race?

On Wednesday Attorney General Eric Holder delivered some remarks at the Department of Justice African American History Month Program. Following is the controversial section, which I will quote with context (emphasis added):

Every year, in February, we attempt to recognize and to appreciate black history. It is a worthwhile endeavor for the contributions of African Americans to this great nation are numerous and significant. Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul.

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. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation's history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, 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. But we must do more- and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must - and will - lead the nation to the "new birth of freedom" so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.

Of all the thing's I've written about, race is the most dangerous topic there is.

In fact, for reasons stated below I hesitated before decided to write it. But since we must be brave, I will go on.

Reading the rest of Holder's speech, he offers no specific policy prescriptions. All he does is "urge all of you to use the opportunity of this month to talk with your friends and co-workers on the other side of the divide about racial matters."

Really? So people are supposed to approach someone of a different race and strike up a conversation about race? Yes, that sounds awkward and I'll tell you why; normal people treat other people like human beings and ignore their race. That's what I do.

Not to mention that such discussions will inevitably cause division. Most people don't randomly talk about sensitive subjects like race, politics, or religion with people they don't know for just that reason; they don't want to create bad feelings. Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

So what does he want us to talk about? The speech offers few clues. He does say that

...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.

One wonders if he really means it.

Conservatives tend not to believe such assurances because we know that to say anything other than the approved party line is to risk being called a racist, or at least "racially insensitive."

Later Holder allows that

There can, for instance, be very legitimate debate about the question of affirmative action. This debate can, and should, be nuanced, principled and spirited. But the conversation that we now engage in as a nation on this and other racial subjects is too often simplistic and left to those on the extremes who are not hesitant to use these issues to advance nothing more than their own, narrow self interest. Our history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Americans are uncomfortable with, and would like to not have to deal with, racial matters and that is why those, black or white, elected or self-appointed, who promise relief in easy, quick solutions, no matter how divisive, are embraced.

So there can be debate, and it can be spirited, but we can't be simplistic and must avoid "those on the extremes." Isn't that a contradiction? And what in the world does it really mean? Apparently someone who wants to end preferences, like Ward Connerly (quoted below) is "divisive" and on the extreme.

I'm one of the simplistic ones; no racial preferences for anybody. Is this a "narrow, self interest?"

A Nation of Cowards?

After rereading the speech I'm still not entirely sure by what he means when he says we're a nation of cowards. The closest I can figure is that he thinks we don't talk about it enough.

This, I think, is a lot of hooey. From my perch we talk incessantly about race. The mere fact that we have something called "Black History Month" proves Holder wrong. That's one whole month that every public school and college in the country has to talk about it. Jonah Goldberg points out that we have "endless courses in colleges and universities, chapters in high school textbooks, movies, documentaries, after-school-specials and so on are devoted to discussing race." and

...to the extent we don't talk about race in this country the primary reason is that liberals and racial activists have an annoying habit of attacking anyone who doesn't read from a liberal script "racists" or, if they're lucky, "insensitive."

Yup.

Further, there's no evidence that his boss, President Obama, wants to open that can of worms. To his credit, so far Obama has not shown any sign of using racial politics. Perhaps he will let his subordinates do his bidding for him. Only time will tell.

Ward Connerly points out that

...it is difficult to have such a discussion when some with differing views are harshly and publicly attacked for their views. For example, when asked about my initiatives to end race preferences, candidate Obama labeled them as those "divisive Ward Connerly initiatives." Such characterization is hardly consistent with the view that we should openly put our views about race on public display.

Connerly is one who would know. A brave man, he.

Some Possible Subjects

But if AG Holder really does want to just "talk," then here are some topics for the agenda:

  • How is it that Al Sharpton, who has been at the center of a whole series of ugly racial incidents, is now mainstream in the Democrat party, and indeed in America as a whole? What can be done to marginalize him?
  • Why have black leaders not adopted the recommendations Bill Cosby and Dr Alvin Pousssaint set forth in Come On, People! On the Path from Victims to Victors
  • ?
  • A few years ago die-hard liberal Juan Williams can wrote a book with the title of Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It . He shares the same thesis as Bill Cosby, that only individual responsibility can pull black people up from where they are now. Do you agree?
  • Following up on these books, how can we combat a culture of victimology?
  • Much if not all "Gangsta Rap" music is vulgar, demeaning to women, and promotes a violent criminal lifestyle. Why won't more leaders, black or white, speak out against it? What can be done about it?

Update

Heather MacDonald Nails It

Is he nuts? Leave aside for a moment Holder's purely decorative call for a "frank" conversation about race. The Clinton-era Conversation also purported to be frank, and we know what that meant: a one-sided litany of white injustices. Please raise your hand if you haven't heard the following bromides about "the racial matters that continue to divide us" more times than you can count: Police stop and arrest blacks at disproportionate rates because of racism; blacks are disproportionately in prison because of racism; blacks are failing in school because of racist inequities in school funding; the black poverty rate is the highest in the country because of racism; blacks were given mortgages that they couldn't afford because of racism. I will stop there.

Not only do colleges, law schools, almost all of the nation's elite public and private high schools, and the mainstream media, among others, have "conversations about . . . racial matters"; they never stop talking about them. Any student who graduates from a moderately selective college without hearing that its black students are victims of institutional racism--notwithstanding the fact that the vast majority of black students there will have been deliberately admitted with radically lower SAT scores than their white and Asian comrades--has been in a coma throughout his time there.

Education bureaucrats maintain an incessant harangue on white racism because they see the writing on the wall: most students are indifferent to race and just want to get along. If left to themselves, they would go about their business perfectly happily and color-blindly, and the race industry would wither on the vine. Thus the institutional imperative to remind black students constantly about their victimization and the white students about their guilt. Last month, the elite Phillips Academy at Andover proudly announced a student presentation on White Privilege: A History and Its Role in Education. Would the student have come up with such a topic on her own without the school's educators deliberately immersing her in such trivial matters? Of course not.

Bingo.

Posted by Tom at February 19, 2009 10:00 PM

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Comments

Redhunter,
I take away something different from Holder's words than you did. I have been in a number of situations where "race" has the been the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about (but is an issue). I happen to be Caucasian and let's face it, the conversation regarding race for me is at best a break even, and at worst a club that can be used to beat me over the head. From my brief read, I think Holder is trying to acknowledge a problem and get people thinking about how to solve it. And let's face it, while America is head and shoulders above many other countries in this area, but we still have a lot of room for growth.

"normal people treat other people like human beings and ignore their race." Well yes and no. Try being a public figure and dealing with statistics that reports blacks are not doing as well as whites. (Alvin Wilbanks got blasted when dealing with statistics that showed racial differences in kids being disciplined): http://www.ajc.com/green/content/metro/gwinnett/stories/2008/08/25/apologize_idaho_naacp.html%3Fcxntlid%3Dinform_artr). And try to be a manager that is about to lay off, fire, or even select a candidate to hire. The conversation in the room is do you have enough information or could your actions be misconstrued to appear racist, sexist, or against any other protected group?

I agree that Holder doesn't offer any solutions, but I thought it was good he was acknowledging a problem. I personally have witnessed black people (a few, not all) translating everyday problems (bad service at a store or restaurant) into racist issues ... and the result is that the store bends over backwards to solve their problems. I don't agree with the situation, but am not surprised. People are opportunistic. "Race" is a word that gets results. But while helpful at the immediate level (the person gets what they want), it is destructive at a higher level (they may convince themselves that the clerk WAS racist, as opposed to just not being a good clerk).

I guess at the end of the day, we live in a melting pot, but race still gets headlines and still makes things happen when they otherwise would be ignored. And at this point, I think the healing is going to have to come from within the black community itself. It's going to take comments like Holder's to get people to focus on the solution.

Mike

Posted by: Mike Sullivan at February 20, 2009 6:53 AM

How is it that Al Sharpton, who has been at the center of a whole series of ugly racial incidents, is now mainstream in the Democrat party, and indeed in America as a whole? What can be done to marginalize him?

I suggest the Democratic Party immediately deactivate his 'Mainstream Membership' card and transfer his points to the 'Non-Mainstream Membership' program. Ohhh wait, they don't have a mainstream card! Perhaps Fox News & various talk radio personalities can help by ceasing to immediately talk about whatever it is he is up to at the moment. Fact is Sharpton gets more national airplay & coverage on Fox, Rush, Savage, Bob Grant etc. than from, say, Alterman, Kos or Huffington.

A few years ago die-hard liberal Juan Williams can wrote a book with the title of Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It . He shares the same thesis as Bill Cosby, that only individual responsibility can pull black people up from where they are now. Do you agree?

OK, how is this a topic for an agenda? What exactly should Holder or Obama do to 'implement' this since you insist on policies whenever anyone makes a speech about topics that are kind of metaphysical? Obama's given plenty of speeches hyping individual responsibility & there's no shortage of it in the preaching and self-help books of the black community.

Much if not all "Gangsta Rap" music is vulgar, demeaning to women, and promotes a violent criminal lifestyle. Why won't more leaders, black or white, speak out against it? What can be done about it?

sounds like fascism to me! You want the state to run our popular culture! Listen you bastard, you'll pry my Tu-Pac cd only from my cold dead fingers! To Arms!

Seriously, though, it's not like this hasn't also been discussed and debated in the black community. I see some of us here need to attend some pop culture work camps to get beyond the early 90's.

Posted by: Boonton at February 20, 2009 10:33 AM

Thanks both for stopping by.

Insightful comment, Mike.

Boonton makes some interesting points too.

"Fact is Sharpton gets more national airplay & coverage on Fox, Rush, Savage, Bob Grant etc. than from, say, Alterman, Kos or Huffington."

Sady, you are correct. And it angers me when they do have him on, and I change the channel when they do. It's a fair point to say that both sides are to blame. So how about this; conservatives stop having him on their radio & TV shows and Democrat politicians shun him?

"Obama's given plenty of speeches hyping individual responsibility"

I think I was clear when I said in the post that "To his credit, so far Obama has not shown any sign of using racial politics." He may show leadership on this issue, only time will tell.

That said, it is certainly mainsteam in the civil rights establishment and among black politicians in general to ignore personal responsibility and blame all the problems of the black community on white racism.

Posted by: Tom the Redhunter at February 20, 2009 9:42 PM

Tom, have a longer post on the fascist thread but I think it's caught in your moderation filter.

I think Sharpton's power on the Democratic side is overrated. Yes politicians occassionaly do talk to him and he has, especially in recent years, tried to strike a more moderate pose while still seeking attention. I think, though, Sharpton's popularity is more an artifact of the right. It is always more fun to have a him on TV throwing bombs than some one who probably represents more people but is duller.

If you recall, Phil Donahue used to operate on the same premise. For every serious show there was a KKK show or neonazi show. This worked until Jerry Springer took it to it's most extreme where he made every show loopy.

Posted by: Boonton at February 21, 2009 9:57 AM

Thanks, Boonton, I found it and published it. You can also send me email when that happens.

Posted by: The Redhunter Author Profile Page at February 21, 2009 8:32 PM

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the first black AG working for the first black prez would say something so narcissistic and stupid.

Posted by: Mike's America Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 12:21 AM

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