Talking About Talking About Race

January 13, 2010

The book Game Change has given cable television news a gift that keeps on giving: Senator Harry Reid’s comments about the race of then-candidate Barack Obama.

If you watch television, you undoubtedly know what every prominent Republican and Democrat has said about Senator Reid calling Obama “light-skinned” and “Negro.” You also may know what a few professors of African-American Studies have said. One such professor, a scholar and commentator I admire greatly, is Melissa Harris-Lacewell, whose piece on the subject is well worth reading for its deductive insights. In my opinion, Senator Reid said what many white Americans, especially those of his age, would have said about Barack Obama, but I accept Ms. Harris-Lacewell’s belief about his use of the word “Negro” as more knowledgable than mine. While I consider it a word my mother would have used, she points out that “Reid has lived in majority-black Washington, D.C., for more than a decade; surely he’s noticed that black and African-American are the preferred monikers.” That makes sense to me.

I learned something from reading Ms. Harris-Lacewell’s essay. I would like to learn more about how blacks feel about what whites say and think, and about how whites feel about what blacks say and think. I strongly doubt that the 24-hour-news cycle is going to give me much to learn, once they have exhausted their ever-pointing fingers. My goodness, a new partisan scandal may already be brewing, on target to wipe Harry Reid off the screen by tomorrow morning.

Here’s what I want: a grassroots “Conversation on Race” campaign. Remember the Obama “calling parties?” Well, I want Organizing for America or MoveOn.org or somebody to set up local “talk about race” meetings, to be held in public libraries or community centers. How wonderful it would be to have a civilized, intelligent, honest discussion about how we feel about each other. Throw in some historical context and current statistics, and everybody in America could get an education that would truly serve them on a daily basis.

Hearing what somebody said about what somebody said will not help me or you learn how to deal with race. Talking and listening in an organized, thoughtful manner—with eye contact—will create new synaptic patterns and melt the perceived negative differences between black and white and all the other colors of the human race.

It’s worth a try. I welcome your comments.

By the way, this looks to be an interesting gathering. I think that “to teach and inform the American public about the nature, challenges, and most importantly, the value of diversity” is a goal we all need to focus on in today’s America.

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