Recognizing the Race Chasm
By David Sirota
May 11, 2008 - 3:52pm ET
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The issue of race makes a lot of folks uncomfortable - and that's especially true right now when the nation is closer than ever to electing the first black President of the United States. As my new newspaper column this week shows, many Serious People who dominate our political debate have reacted to this historic election and their own queasiness about race by exposing their prejudices.
On one side, you have the ostriches - the political "thinkers" like Reihan Salam and Michael Lind who look at the Race Chasm and pretend it doesn't exist. These people look at a racially polarized election map, and explain it away with either flippant fact-free stories about Hillary Clinton's "waitress-mom sensibility," or wild theories about Northern European migration trends from a century ago. They expect us to forget that most often the simplest explanation is the most obvious - especially when it comes to a black-white racial divide that has been a defining characteristic of American culture since our country's inception.
On the other side you have the minstrel show producers - the media and politicians who are more than thrilled to exploit race and treat African Americans as less than human. My column offers up all sorts of specific examples of this, but I think Keith Woods of the Poynter Institute summed it up best. Appearing on PBS this week, he said:
"You see a full vocabulary for talking about white Americans in this debate, from blue-collar, a euphemism for white blue-collar workers. We talk about lunch-bucket Democrats. We talk about the soccer mom and the NASCAR dad, all of which are euphemisms in the national discourse for white Americans. And then we talk about black people, as though they are all the same, with pretty much all the same views."
Each side is expressing a form of bigotry. In denying the racial divide exists, the ostriches are telling African Americans that racism is just their imagination. In other words, the whitewashing (no pun intended) legitimizes racism by pretending it doesn't exist.
The minstrel show producers are more honest than the ostriches - they are overtly telling African Americans that they are unimportant, even though that's positively false in both the human and political sense.
The silver lining in all of this is the fact that - despite the ostriches - we may start to have a much-needed national conversation about race, to the great consternation of wealthy white pundits like Bill Kristol. As all of this racism oozes out of the political Establishment for all to see, we can recognize just how bigoted American culture is - and recognition is the first step towards addressing a problem.
You can read the whole column at the San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, Ft. Collins Coloradoan, In These Times, TruthDig, Credo Action, or Creators. The column relies on grassroots support, so if you'd like to see my column regularly in your local paper, use this directory to find the contact info for your local editorial page editors. Get get in touch with them and point them to my Creators Syndicate site. Thanks, as always, for your ongoing readership and help contacting local editors. This column couldn't be what it is without your help.
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