The Conversation on Race and Barack Obama: Point of Engagement

by B.J. Delas Armas on 3/25/2008 07:59:00 PM 0 comments Print this post

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The Conversation on Race and Barack Obama: Point of Engagement






It's been a week already and people are still talking about it. Every form of major internet media from Slate to the Christian Science Monitor to the LA Times has kept the speech fresh in our minds.

Some pieces have made me cringe, some have left me confused, most have made me indifferent.

Then there was one that dropped its big red bricks of dumbass on me. And one that got the neurons firing, the white matter connecting, the soul uplifting.

On one corner, a tired LA Times columnist with enough pomposity to fill a hot-air balloon.

The other end, a quick-rising, quick-rhyming Blue Scholar.

Pompous LA Times guy says that we already talk about race so much. After all, we have a Black history month, the movie "Crash", entire majors devoted to race, books about race, corporate diversity consultants. Apparently this is enough to declare that we've already talked to death the conversation about race relations.

He's saying there's no need for a dialogue about race because we've talked about it enough.

Essentially, he wants to cut off engagement and conversation before it even starts because he believes the conversation has already gone on.

In reality, it's been a very unhealthy passive-aggressive relationship between white folk and people of color.

What he doesn't realize is that those mediums have been one-way conversations --- each side doing its own thing. White people shit talk folks of color. Folks of color shit talk white people. Unless they agree to do it and/or happen to understand each others' humor, they just never do it in front of each other --- legacy of segregation, which is only about as old as Michael Jordan.

However, one side, the one that the pompous LA Times guy represents assumes that there isn't anymore race problems. Now that good ole MLK bravely fought against segregation, people of color are now just "creating or re-hashing problems." Talking about race issues in regards are dismissed as deliberate schemes to hustle billions of dollars from the good old American system. If it's a problem, one side, the one with majority people of color, is continually making it so.

In response to those responses, people of color do by and large stick with their own. They make movies like Crash, or do engage in studies like Chicano, Afro-American, Asian American studies to gain a sense of self-knowledge and dignity. If race was used to bring generations of us down, why can't we use it to bring us back up?

However, I do see that being involved too much into these studies can foster this sense of distance from white folks. We might be the experts on what being a person of color is in United States and know all the struggles, but how are we engaging folks not inside the discipline? Do we do just take comfort and refuge in these disciplines? A lot of the stuff that the LA Times guy mentioned was stuff that was FUBU...for us, by us. What do these disciplines, these objects mean if part of their reason in addition to empowering ourselves does not include bridge understandings between different groups? Do they just become academic-ized, new-age segregated fields of study where we completely do things our way however we define it?

So where do the two sides meet?

Prometheus Brown, the eminent Blue Scholar, makes the simple but poignant point: racism is everyone's problem. However, the subject of race is only mentioned in media with people of color, which gives the image that race is a one-street in which only people of color participate. Otherwise it's an issue that ceases to exist.

"Some people point to Obama’s successes as a sure sign that America has taken many steps forward in resolving its racial contradictions. But isn’t the fact that Obama gets singled out for his views on race a big red flag? Where do Clinton and McCain stand on this issue, and why haven’t they weighed in? Why is nobody asking them what they think about racism?"

The point I glean from all this is just that white folks and folks of color need to actually be engaged in conversation together about race, and not so polarized in their own circles discussing things. White folks reach out. Folks of color reach out. It's an easy common sense solution, but not so in reality. The question has been here way before Obama and will probably still be there after him, but the question is will there ever be any political or social will to ensure anything happens towards that dialogue?

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