Friday, February 20, 2009

A Nation Of Cowards?

Many of the pundit class in the media have been “appalled” by the comments of Attorney General Eric Holder, the first black Attorney General. In a speech that he gave at the Justice Department for Black History Month the AG stated that in effect when it comes to matters of race we have been a “nation of cowards”. As I observed the many black talking heads run for cover over the AG’s “controversial” remarks it reminded me of the “Jeremiah Wright” incident and many other times when a black person has spoken out in ways that were considered too confrontational. As a defense against the topic many focus on the tone of the speaker and not the message of the speaker. In this way we can continue to avoid the topic because we are so busy debating the messenger. What this allows us to do is to avoid the dreadful facts that in many ways our society and our social interactions have not changed much in the last fifty years.

What I think AG Holder was trying to do was to not allow many of us to fall into the trap that is Obamania. Now that Obama has been elected President many have begin to declare that our racial problems are over, that his election is evidence that we now live in a post-racial society. We are constantly being told that now we have nothing left to complain about – we elected a black man didn’t we? Let’s be clear electing Obama President is a historical and monumental achievement in America and is worthy of praise, but are any of us so naïve to believe that a black man that had to run by not discussing the problems and plight of black people suddenly removed the racial disparity that has for so long divided this nation? Think about this as an example; how many of us took part in the election by doing voter registration, attending rallies, and other volunteer activities and when they were over went back to our insulated enclaves feeling good that we had “made a difference”? For those of you who believe that we live in a transformed America let me present to you some facts that may alter those beliefs.

· In 2004, a typical black family had an income that was 58 percent of a typical white family's. In 1974, median black incomes were 63 percent of those of whites.

· Unemployment among blacks is more than double that for whites, 10.8 percent versus 5.2 percent in 2003 -- a wider gap than in 1972.[2]

· In 2000, the median net worth of a household headed by a non-Hispanic white adult was $79,400. The median net worth of a household run by a black adult was $7,500.[3]

· According to the 2000 U.S. census, an estimated 14.3% of the Black/African American population 25 years and older has a baccalaureate degree, 42.5% has some college education, and 72.3% completed high school. In contrast, 26.1% of the White population 25 years and older has a baccalaureate degree, 54.1% has some college education, and 83.6% completed high school (Bauman & Graf, 2003)[4]

· Only about 5 percent of the nation's churches are racially integrated[5]

So as one can easily deduce from the statistics electing one man to one office does not dramatically change what is happening on the ground with blacks. As I listened to the white pundits I couldn’t help but notice that their take – like so many other whites – was markedly different than the black pundits. They tend to believe that things are better for blacks than the blacks believe. Whether we like it or not at some point we have to begin to address and confront our racial history. For too long we have brushed it under the rug thinking it will just go away and granted that may happen, but at the rate we are going that could take a couple of centuries. In the mean time we continue to live in fear and mistrust of each other choosing to live in separate worlds that only collide when we are forced to by circumstance or emergency. The statistic that sticks out the most to me is the church integration, how are we going to live together when the one place where all are suppose to be equal under God remains so divided?

What many whites don’t understand is that in order for any minority to be successful they have to become experts in the culture of whites. They have to learn the music, the art, and the history of the white society. They have to learn and understand the psychology of whites. So minorities know whites, they have to. By the same token whites can be successful and don’t have to learn about any culture other than their own unless they choose to. You see integration has always been a bottom up proposition minorities integrating up into white schools, white neighborhoods, and white social circles. Rarely do whites integrate into black neighborhoods, black schools, or black social circles. Whites for the most part can still go through their daily lives without any significant interaction with a black person other than service personnel. In the meaningful areas of our lives many of us are still very segregated with the near future looking bleak.

Until we are able to have a free and open exchange of ideas we can never expect to overcome the centuries of mistrust that continue to plague us. Until whites are able to express their concerns about black societal ills without fear of hostility and calls of racism and until blacks are able to confront whites about their role in slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation without whites becoming defensive and blaming past generations we will be unable to bridge the divide that separates us. Are we a nation of cowards? Maybe, but in the past we have been and unless we overcome our fears instead of denying them we will remain stuck in the quagmire that has become race in America.


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