After enduring two painful hours watching “Obama’s America: 2010 and Beyond” on MSNBC last night, I had two distinct thoughts. The first was, “That was two hours of my life I’ll never get back.” The second, and more important rumination, was that this is precisely why I have tired of orchestrated discussions on race.
In case you missed it, you can catch clips of the show here
. I am happy to save you the time of watching by summing it up this way.
Perhaps if you haven’t engaged, attended, or participate in one of these race dialogue productions, you may have learned a thing or two. However, for the trained ear, this was yet another circular conversation–replete with the same old sound bites, statistics, and uncomfortable jokes. To me, it’s just speechifying. In fairness, I could have been fatigued from listening to a lot of the same the night before. A guy I came across on Twitter, who writes a really good blog called Average Bro
, was participating in an online radio discussion about Obama’s
first year in office. There were a few people interested in looking at issues from all angles, but overall it felt like most of the discussion was guided by rules. Rules of what is considered acceptable black thought. If you even appear to drift off script, your’re labeled or marginalized. One woman called in and suggested Obama doesn’t, and can’t, connect with “everyday” black people because he attended Ivy League schools. All together now…UGH
That brings me to the driver for this post. I am increasingly frustrated with rules of engagement when discussing race. Several I had to opt out of the conversation because it just became unnerving to talk endlessly about race. I stepped down from the diversity committee I sat on at my son’s school because I got “diversitied out.” I got sick of polite conversations. We never seemed to get to the root causes of racial divisions.
In an attempt to keep this post from going on for pages, here’s my thing. I think if we are ever going to get somewhere on race (and just about any other issue), we need to have some honest conversations with some action items attached at the end. We need to shift this cookie cutter approach of having panel discussions with bullshit Q&A time after all the panelists orate for 80% of the allotted time. I actually think small conversations on race would be more effective. Maybe that could be a national initiative.
My concern is that people sit through or watch these orchestrated “discussions” and feel are no closer to understanding what divides and/or unites us than they were when the talking started. To me, I would find it much more instructive to an honest and candid account of what an Asian woman feels about her experience with black people. Is this experience isolated, or shared by others within the Asian community. Likewise, I wish blacks would just go ahead and say what is said about whites. “You know how white folks are.”
Let’s pull down the veils of politeness and get stuff out on the table so we can deal with it honestly. Clearly there needs to be thick skin, because reactions and tempers flaring to slights (real or perceived) only serves to derail any advancement of understanding.
Maybe I’m just getting older, because there once was a time when I was obsessed with race, and tended to see race behind just about every aspect of day-to-life. Now? I am not as quick to assume race is behind every action, reaction or comment. Don’t get me wrong, I still see stuff and probably am much more prone to just say what I’m thinking. Sometimes I surprise people with my candor. Other times, I annoy people for revealing what’s considered dirty laundry.
In the end, sitting on my hands, biting my tongue, and being polite does nothing to break a cycle of ignorance and misunderstanding. We would benefit from breaking from the habit of talking to the same people all the time. Let’s engage some new people of different races and ethnicities. And, here’s a twist, try talking about anything and everything other than race.