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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Let's Talk About Race. Again?

A few things I've seen have brought me back to the topic of race, not the least of which is Greg Burgas' declaration that he is not racist. A bold statement, that. Certainly, I don't recall anything he's written - I only "know" him electronically - that would suggest that he is. I wouldn't be bold enough, though, to say that I am without prejudice. I WOULD say that I work very hard to know what my biases are in order to counteract them.

I think the problem with race and racism generally is that we get caught up in these simplistic myths. Though the Civil War supposedly ended slavery in 1865 - as I noted in the talk I plugged here - there were vestiges of neo-slavery in the US that lasted up until World War II.

Or the notion that South was terribly racist, which it was, but that the North was just the epitome of racial tolerance. I'm thinking of Phil Ochs' songs such as Here's to the State of Mississippi or Neil Young's Alabama or Southern Man. By pointing out the sins of the South, it seems to have given the rest of the country a self-congratulatory free pass. Yet, it is the South, which has had to face its racism more directly, that now has more black mayors, black city council members than the rest of the country.

And the source of that attention to the South was not limited to the US. Mark Evanier posted this episode of Great Britain's That Was The Week That Was, a satirical review that ran in the early sixties, hosted by David Frost. Check out the piece starting about five-and-a-half minutes in that runs for three minutes or so; a warning - liberal use of blackface and the N-word.

The conclusion that a threshold has been met really never comes when the first person gets there. When Obama was elected, people - lots of people - seem to think that "We HAVE Overcome." It's NEVER that simple.

Jackie Robinson is the classic example; when he joined the Dodgers in 1947, did racism disappear from baseball? Of course not. It took a decade before every team had at least one player; if memory serves, the Yankees and the Red Sox were the last, a full decade after Jackie had broken the barrier, and indeed after Jackie had retired.

There are a lot of folks including Howard Stern, in his occasionally salty language, that believe that racism is what's at the bottom of the rampant hatred for President Obama. Probably, but I'm thinking about how prejudice has tread in the past eight years. After 9/11, there were lots of bigotry and even attacks on Arabs and Muslims, and people who some yahoos THOUGHT were Arabs or Muslims. Some black comedian said, in a widely-understood comment, "Now black people AREN'T the most hated people in America!"

Then we have Obama who is black, but it would be politically incorrect to attack him on that. So they can attack him on being Muslim! They're still fair game, aren't they? Throw in that he's a socialist, communist AND a Nazi - he REALLY needs to hone in on one philosophy and stick with it - and all vestiges that it's his race that is the problem are washed away. Except that, when you strip away all of the lies, the only truth left is his race.

I'm going to revisit this soon in the context of a book review.



Uthaclena said...

I think that part of the problem with discussing race is that it is painted with a VERY wide brush; the "discussion" itself tends to occur in a very stereotypic manner and so generally remains in the rut it has so long found itself. It is also, of course, an emotionally-loaded discussion, and emotional agitation, I find, turns the rational mind OFF. There is also the problem that we really don't know where we want to take the conversation; do we (unrealistically) want to make it all "go away?" to declare that we are "post-race" and that we won't have to talk about it anymore?

My impression of culture and history is that pretty much all ethnic groups world-wide have, or do, display something akin to racism. It appears that it may arise from making distinctions between "us" and "them," and the "haves" trying to keep the upper hand on the "have-nots," so it's unlikely that we can ever really permanently resolve it.

I think that the best we might hope for is creating ethical and legal strategies to minimize the impact of racism, and as American history demonstrates, it is a multi-generational struggle to develop and positively indoctrinate such attitudes.

But what do I know?

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