Thursday, October 2, 2008

Conversationalism + 2008: Conversations About Race

Required Reading. For this post, and for Life.

That gentleman is the Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO. I mean, if we're talking about the "blue-collar white man" that allegedly hasn't been out to back Obama in the polls, this is the guy.

But I don't want to talk politics. I want to talk conversation.

Back in the Primary Season, Barack Obama was called to respond to a scandal brewing over Reverend Wright. And he did. But he did something more profound than disavowing Reverend Wright. He talked about our relationship to race in this country.

He summed up his speech in this part of the text, I think:

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. ...

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time."


He was calling on this nation to begin a dialogue, a true conversation about race. That's kind of my gig, and I was thrilled when I saw it. I was going to write something about it, but time slipped away and I let it fall.

And then nothing happened.

There was no discussion of race. We had blundered through a few minor but painful racial gaffes (Geraldine Ferraro, for instance). And at the end of the day, we went back to pretending that there was nothing different about Barack Obama, and that nobody was going to treat him any differently. And that race would not be an issue in this election. For the most part, it won't be. We have advanced a long way, and from the electoral maps I'm seeing right now, it seems fairly likely that Obama will still win.

But the question remains: what about our racial dialogue?

Although the speech I posted at the beginning from the AFL-CIO chief was mostly a stump speech for Obama, I have to tease out two major, major points he made.

  • We Cannot Stand By While Racism Happens
  • Getting Involved Doesn't Mean Accusing People Of Racism; It Means Engaging Them
That's a fantastic basis for the beginning to our conversation about race.

I'm very proud of our country tonight. I'm very proud that we have a man who can make that speech. He is winning no easy medals by bringing up a topic that most people have a much easier time avoiding.

More, America. We need more discussion.

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