It seems we are about to embark on a long overdue “dialogue on race”. That’s what everyone in the media, both traditional and online, are saying — that Barack Obama’s speech on race has opened a window of opportunity. All we need to do it step through that window and a golden age of understanding will ensue.
I don’t believe that about the golden age. In fact I don’t believe we will actually step through the window. Bill Clinton tried that over ten years ago and nothing happened.
I believe that, fundamentally, we don’t want to talk about it. Some of us like to rant about it, for sure, but if the rest of us actually talked about it calmly and rationally we would steal their spotlight. And really, it would be uncomfortable. Americans aren’t used to being uncomfortable and are, therefore, bad at it. We will go to any lengths — even selling our own liberty — to avoid it.
When Bill Clinton raised this topic, I went out on a limb. I opened myself to the inevitable vitriol and wrote about race (and gender and ethnicity and class) from a middle-aged white guy’s perspective.
Since those essays remain pretty much unread and are still pertinent, here are links to them in the archive:
So here it is. The “Dialogue on Race” redux. I’ll go first.
In the ten years since this was posted (and the nearly 20 years since the essays were originally written), various politicians and media pundits have offered, in moments of particularly public racial tension, to get on with the “dialogue on race” that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama never managed to start. Every time I see such an offer, I make an effort to point them to these essays as my opening bid in the discussion they asked for. I think by now I’ve probably sent them to 10 or 20 people, all of whom claimed, publicly and vehemently, to want to have a frank and open conversation on the topic.
No one has ever responded. Not one. Not even with contempt.
I’ve come to the conclusion that such offers are more forms of virtue signaling than actual statements of intent. It appears people, indeed, don’t want to talk about it — but that they are eager to be seen as people who want to talk about it, if only they could find someone as sincere and as morally righteous as themselves to engage with….