US Attorney General Eric Holder took a bold step in a speech he made to the Justice Department for Black History Month. He said "this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards." Us cowards? Americans, cowards? How can he say that?
He continued on to say "Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us."
Come on, I mean in 2009 who doesn't know someone who comes from a diverse background that they hang with? Why just the other day, I was talking to my black friend Jamal about race. I said, "Can you believe how racist some people are?" Jamal said, "Yes, that's why I'm glad we are so tight." We fistbumped and I got off the bus in my neighborhood while Jamal continued on to his.
But back to Holder's statement, "As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by "American instinct" and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one’s character. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago."
What does he mean. When I went to see "The Reader" last Saturday, there were all kinds of people in the theater. There were older people and younger people, and men and women. In fact, I think I saw an African-American couple in the audience. In fact when I was at the restaurant after the movie, they were there too. I think it was the same couple.
And at church this Sunday, I was talking to a couple that were visiting the church about a discussion on race relations we are planning. Even though we are living in post-racial America, there are a few stragglers we are trying to reach. It was an inter-racial couple. They said they'd think about coming.
Anyway, and with respect, Eric Holder is way off the mark. Listen to this: "As a nation we should use Black History month as a means to deal with this continuing problem. By creating what will admittedly be, at first, artificial opportunities to engage one another we can hasten the day when the dream of individual, character based, acceptance can actually be realized. To respect one another we must have a basic understanding of one another. And so we should use events such as this to not only learn more about the facts of black history but also to learn more about each other. This will be, at first, a process that is both awkward and painful but the rewards are potentially great. The alternative is to allow to continue the polite, restrained mixing that now passes as meaningful interaction but that accomplishes little."
Can you imagine some old school "gangstas" and folks from suburbia sitting down and talking like that--yeah, that'd be just a little tense. But seriously, most of the black people I know are just like white people I know. They want good schools for their kids, a good job, a nice place to live. I don't think they are into the whole "race as definition of self" thing any more.
I think the new AG is a well-meaning guy, but, you know, I think we've all got a handle on things--especially since we elected Obama, right?