Thursday, February 19, 2009

Some Honest Discussion of Race

Eric Holder wants some honest talk about race. So, I thought I'd offer up up some comments about my perspective on race in the United States.

In my case, talking honestly means have the courage of my optimism and idealism.

I believe that the fundamental racial issue in the United States is the need for people to "embrace" each other across racial lines.

It's not enough to "tolerate" other people. The political theorist Wendy Brown is very much correct in arguing that toleration is just the willingness to be around people that you can still stigmatize as the "other," the "inferior," the "sick people," or the "oppressor." What is needed is for people to value, enjoy, and be interested in the people "across the lines." I'm a white, rural, heterosexual, and middle-aged guy. I should be able to reletavize my own whiteness and enjoy the whiteness, blackness, hispanicness, gayness, and heterosexuality of others.

And I try to do so.

I should also follow the example of Gandhi and seek to recognize the blackness, hispanicness, gayness within myself.

People internalize other cultures as they come into contact with them and we should embrace that internalization. In the United States, white people and black people have internalized a great deal of each other's patterns even as they've stigmatized each other.

We should embrace the "other within" as well as without.

That is precisely what I've internalized from my reading in African-American thought over the last fifteen years--the writing of Boston King, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, W.E. B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, and others.

And I couldn't understand my own identity is I didn't understand that these authors are not only the African-American heritage. They're also part of my heritage.

1 comment:

Todd Mayo said...

Well said. People tend to believe we've really "turned a corner" on institutional racism with the election of President Obama. Without question that was a significant step. BUT...as you point out "tolerence" is not sufficient. Having taken every class you offered during my time at MSU, this point, while something of which I was aware, was brought home to me as I read the works of those you mentioned as well as others. Tolerence suggests we "put up with" or "endure" something. Diversity is not something to be endured, it is something to embrace and celebrate. Some say it weakens and divides the United States. I say it is, or can/could be our greatest strength. What hubris for the white, protestant, straight majority to pat ourselves on the back because we are so tolerant. "Why I have a black friend." "I'm not like that I have a gay friend," or a muslim friend or a jewish friend. Not only is this patronizing to that token friend, it diminishes the humanity of the white, straight, protestant because he/she has effectively pigeon-holed that friend for whom they have so much "tolerence." Making one's friends mascots to show how "open-minded" one might be is more insulting than those who condemn and rail against diversity. A trophy african-american, or gay, or Jewish, or Muslim friend used to prove one's "broad-minded" tolerence? Why bother? I have african-american friends, gay friends, etc and I do embrace that part of me that is those people.
But to say, as many do, that the election of Barack Obama means we've "turned a corner" on the institutional racism so deeply embedded within the consciousness of our nation's institutions and its people does not pass the smell test. Of a hundred senators one is black. One! And that's Roland Burris who though finally seated, is very likely D.O.A. because of his association of Gov Rod Blagojevich. Of fifty governors two are black and one of those is in New York by default because Elliot Spitzer got caught with a hooker. This country hardly seems willing to elect black leaders on a regular basis so we need not pat ourselves on the back just yet. African americans are are incarcerated almost SIX TIMES the
rate of white people. Funding for public schools in black neighborhoods is an insult. The Supreme Court has effectively eviscerated Brown versus the Board of Education. There are lawmakers like U.S. Representative Lynn Westmoreland, a republican from Georgia who referred to Obama as “uppity”. Twice! We can give thanks for a lot of things but the defeat of racism in America is not one of them. Far from it, when one looks at the corridors of power in government and business, we see neither tolerence, nor a celebration of diversity. What we have is the same old white establishment holding real progress back. We wax poetic about progressiveness and tolerance but behind all the talk the same old white boys’ club is working overtime to preserve the race, class, sex status quo and to continue doing business as usual.
For my part, I am embarrassed and appalled (though not especially surprised), that even in 2009 ordinary Americans are pitted against each other by the elite all for the glorification of wealth, and power of an entrenched, super-rich, mostly white male oligarchy. And in those corridors of power and influence, as I alluded to above, the simple but ugly truth is we all look for that. No part of United States culture is immune whether consciously or unconsciously. Thomas Jefferson said, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." We have not taken that to heart (perhaps because those words were written by a man who owned many slaves). Whatever the source of the collective United States prejudgedices, facts are facts. The sad fact in the yeat 2009, nine years into the 21st century,white collar society still prefers to take its african-americans as it takes its coffee, with a little cream and sugar. I’m ashamed of it. But until we confront that sad fact, we will not change it as a society.
I by quoting you Ric. "the fundamental racial issue in the United States is the need for people to "embrace" each other across racial lines...It's not enough to "tolerate" other people."
This from you also expresses my own thinking, "I couldn't understand my own identity if I didn't understand that these authors are not only the African-American heritage. They're also part of my heritage." So very true.