The forced conversation
0 comment Sunday, April 27, 2014 |
Over at Free Republic, the mostly 'colorblind' Freepers have been discussing this article, which addresses the question apparently posed by a reader named Richard Banbury:
Why do we call Obama black?
...If we are in the business of telling the truth, when a designation is necessary, Obama is most precisely identified as African American.
As Banbury pointed out, "If he chose to, Barack could have identified himself with his mother's heritage and referred to himself as a white candidate, and perhaps requested to be so identified.
"But I don't think the press would have referred to him in that manner. Equally so, he shouldn't be referred to as a black candidate. It's not a matter of race or group identification. It's simply a question of journalistic accuracy."
Banbury's question as well as headlines from Pennsylvania and West Virginia and from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright episode remind me that the press too easily paints events in black and white. It's time to raise our dialogue about race in America to a more progressive level.
Given its power, the press has an obligation to inform that dialogue as accurately as possible. Obama's candidacy is a rare and riveting opportunity exactly because it is forcing conversations about issues that have been easier to ignore for centuries.''
I leave the Free Republic discussion to my readers' judgment.
But what of the question posed above, and the answer provided?
The writer says that Obama's candidacy is ''forcing conversations" about race, which the writer seems to think is an issue that has been ''ignored for centuries."
Given that a war was fought, with many Americans killed, which at least tangentially had to do with race, I don't see how it can be said that the issue has been ''ignored'. And what was all that uproar in the 1960s about, with the freedom riders and the marches and the National Guard in the schools in Little Rock? Somehow I got the impression it was about race.
What the writer probably alludes to, when she says it has been 'easier to ignore race', is the fact that most white people (and possibly other non-blacks) are too uneasy speaking about race or anything remotely connected to it. Since at least the 1950s, the subject has been a minefield that it's much wiser to avoid than to try to venture across. We've seen good people become casualties, as they chose a wrong word or phrase or allusion, and found themselves exiled from polite society, out of work, and disgraced.
On the other side, it can hardly be said that blacks have 'ignored the subject', since it has been so profitable for them to speak about little else, and to interject the subject where it has no relevance, to insist that all difficulties and inconveniences they experience are a result of race.
We can 'discuss' race, but for all of us who are not black or of another 'special' group, our role in any such discussion is not to discuss, but to listen submissively while we are berated and accused for everything wrong we or our ancestors, however remote, were guilty of. Answering back in self-defense is not allowed, and if we attempt it, we are further denounced for 'racism' and 'hate speech.'
So maybe there are understandable reasons why there has been little real discussion, real give-and-take, on the issue.
But with Obama as a candidate, predictably the subject of race is ever-present, even if only implicitly, in any news story relating to Obama. As I said last year, his candidacy will mean there is no escaping the racial sermons and recriminations.
As to the question addressed in the article, "why do we call Obama black", does this not strike anyone as a bizarre question, which would not have been asked in the old days (pre-PC), a question which is really a strange product of our 'colorblind', politically correct age?
Is the question not at least implying that race is truly a "social construct", or that it's just a matter of personal choice, as we self-identify?
I think this idea began to gain traction back in the 1970s. In college I knew more than a few leftist whites who claimed some Indian ancestry and who then began to wear beads, fringe, and turquoise jewelry and join 'Native American Students' groups on campus. All this with only a tenuous connection to some remote Indian ancestry. However, it is less easy to shift back and forth between a black and white identity.
I've met my share of people of mixed black and white, or black and Indian ("Native American") parentage, who always identify as black. In one case, the woman in question did not look black; I never guessed she was anything but white, but I learned from our boss that the woman was 'African-American.' Unless she informed them, nobody would guess.
It seems an ironclad rule that people of mixed race choose the nonwhite heritage, regardless of their appearance. But if we met Barack Obama, not knowing of his white maternal ancestry, would any of us look at him and think 'white'? If he decided to identify as 'white' and asked to be considered such, would that be credible? Yet that's what many of the Freepers seem to think he should do. "He has a white mother, so he's equally white and black." But does it work that way?
Many whites seem obsessed with Tiger Woods, and cite him as an example of somebody who embraces both heritages (Asian and black). But is he either? Both?
Can anybody be truly half-and-half, neutral between the two poles, especially when the two heritages are so greatly at odds?
And why is it important for the social engineers, the 'colorblind' liberals (Republican and Democrat alike) to pretend that race is not a given, but a chosen thing?
I think the fact that you have so many self-described 'conservatives' adopting the colorblind ideology is what's troubling.
And why is it that the old terms describing people of mixed ancestry are now apparently banished from our vocabulary? Is the word 'mulatto' verboten, like so many old-fashioned descriptive words?
The idea of the 'one-drop rule', supposedly enforced by racist whites, is mentioned, disparagingly, in this connection. In my experience, it seems that people with any degree of black ancestry automatically are part of the ''black community'' simply based on appearance. And that seems to be their personal preference.
By embracing the notion that race is something we can 'choose' I think we are giving place to the liberal idea that all of us are, or can be, self-created individuals, not constrained by sex/gender, nationality, or even that very visible quality, race. This is the liberal's idea of freedom: to construct our own identity, free of any innate, fixed traits over which we have no control.
Are we all perhaps just suffering from a serious cognitive dissonance, given the paradoxical, contradictory messages regarding race which our society imposes on us? On the one hand, ''we are all the same. There's only one race: the human race. Race is only skin deep. Race is a social construct." And on and on.
On the other hand: race is everything, because we are constantly told that 'diversity' based on race is essential to every society. Homogeneity is a bad, unhealthy thing -- and yet aren't we "all the same?"
But how is diversity possible unless we truly are unlike each other in some important ways?
And if colorblindness is the ideal, and recognizing race is bad, why are non-whites constantly talking about race, as if it's the most important thing in their identity and in their life? Why is affirmative action a good thing if judging based on race is bad?
What we have is an impossible situation in which non-whites obtain considerable advantages from keeping race front and center, emphasizing it, focusing on it, using it. Most whites, on the other hand, would prefer to play the 'colorblind' game, seeing as how the issue of race leads to accusations, guilt, and demands for concessions of one sort or another. It's a losing game for the rest of us, but a useful one for blacks, who reap the benefits of being a victim group.
I don't know how we can find our way out of this maze, but it's obvious that we need to try some different path than the present one, which keeps leading us in circles.

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