At the end of the "talk" we go our separate ways supposedly feeling good about having this time have a frank discussion on race.
But the thing is, we never had a discussion and nothing ever really changed. The discussion has almost alway been "rigged" in that there is one viewpoint that African Americans are supposed to have and one viewpoint that whites are supposed to have. It feels less like an honest conversation and more like a play where we have been handed the lines to speak.
Of course, the reason I am bringing this all up is because of Attorney General Eric Holder's comments this past week about the United States being a "nation of cowards" by not dealing with race. Holder said that the nation "still had not come to grips with its racial past, nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have."
In some ways, I find this hard to believe. Since the civil right movement, we as a nation have been talking and facing our racial past. When I watched then President-elect Obama speak in Chicago's Grant Park back in November, I saw a multi-cultural audience that reflected America at this moment.
I'm not saying that life is perfect for African Americans. But speaking as an African American, I can say that life for me is a lot better than it was for my father who grew up in the Jim Crow South. Martin Peretz remind us what has changed:
Holder was eight years old half a century ago. The desegregation of schools had barely begun. The "dream" of Martin Luther King, Jr. was still ringing in the people's ears and he had only recently been murdered. Black men and women did not figure in our national politics. Black teenagers did not then reasonably aspire to do well at school -the odds were against them--or hope to graduate, as Holder did, from Columbia University (as Barack Obama also did) and from the Columbia Law School. There were no black generals or managing partners of law firms or presidents of the best institutions of higher learning or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and not many black people at all in the solid middle class. And almost none in the upper middle class. How many blacks were actually rich or even super-rich? No, America is not racial paradise. But it is more integrated, much more integrated than Great Britain and France which used to disdain our bigoted traditions and habits. No longer, believe me, no longer.
But Holder seems to ignore all of this progress. In some ways, that has become the way many liberals have viewed race: highlighting the shortfalls and ignoring the major progress we have made as a nation. We have a black man in the White House, a house that was built by people that looked like our President who were viewed as nothing more than property. That is something to be proud of.
Yes, there are still problems that persist and racism does still exists, but it is not as pernicious and devastating as it once was. Yes, be vigilant, but for God's sake, be willing to celebrate once in while. As John McWhorter said:
If white people are cowards for not wanting to be called racists, there is a fear as well in people like Holder. It's not pretty to face that black people will excel, like everyone else, under less-than-perfect conditions. This "conversation" would be social history playing out quite perfectly--but history is never that consummately fair. The Civil Rights revolution was close enough to perfect, and Barack Obama's election was even closer. Now, it's time not for a callisthenic "conversation," but for making our way in reality.
History is not perfect. But we have come a long way. Let's be willing to say that.