Thursday, February 19, 2009

We ARE afraid to talk about race

Attorney General Eric Holder is in hot water right now, having said that America is a "nation of cowards" when it comes to talking about race. Conservatives immediately freaked out, maintaining that because we now have an African American President (not to mention an African American Attorney General), there is--voila!--no more racism in America.

Bigot radio show host Rush Limbaugh and idiot columnist Michell Malkin both chastised Holder, and Malkin, in another in a long line of ignorant statements, said that if anyone is a racial coward, it's Obama, because he sat in Jeremiah Wright's church, "saying nothing about the separatist demagoguery echoing from the pulpit to the pews." Malkin displays her astonishing ignorance about the realities of black churches in America and, in fact, the history of the segregated church.

It's true--we have come a very long way, since the days of our parents and grandparents when segregation was legal, and blacks could not attend the same schools or live in the same neighborhoods as whites. But those days are not very far behind us, and the legacy of those days, which lasted for over a hundred years after the end of the Civil War, remain with us today.

Blacks, and other minorities, still:

-suffer from poverty at much greater rates than whites
-suffer from, and die from, most major diseases at greater rates than whites
-have lower incomes than whites
-have less property, and wealth, than whites
-have a lower life expectancy than whites
-have a greater chance of being imprisoned than whites
-have a greater chance of being victimized by violent crime than whites
-have a harder chance getting credit or home loans than whites
-and, thirty years after Brown vs. Board of Education, still go to segregated schools that whites long ago fled

Yes, it's true; we have a black President. But Barack Obama, during his campaign, was careful to portray himself in a way that did not scare white voters, and that allowed us to think of him as "safe." White voters could safely vote for him as long as he didn't make them think too much about race, or about his own blackness.

While Obama was elected by both black and white voters, it's also true that in those states in which blacks made up more than 20% of the electorate (but less than 55% of Democrats), he lost among whites, who were less likely to vote for a black man. Obama won soundly in states with hardly any blacks, and states with huge numbers of blacks. Outside of that, he did not, even among Democrats.

So yes, we, and by that I mean white America, are afraid of race. We are afraid to talk about race, and we are still afraid of people who don't look like us, because we still think that they are different from us, and different is scary.

The New York Post cartoon in which two white cops shoot a chimpanzee while saying "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill," is both a reference to the horrific shooting of Travis the chimpanzee, but it also, very clearly, draws from three hundred years of imagery relating African Americans to monkeys and apes. That the Post chose to ignore this obvious history, and simply shrug off the charges of racism by noting that Al Sharpton (one of the first to complain) is a publicity hound, just demonstrates that they are afraid to cop to the racial implications of the cartoon.

We are indeed a nation of cowards when it comes to race.

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