President Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, caused a modest sensation back in February when, in speaking of race relations in America, he accused Americans of being a nation of cowards. From the wider context of his speech, his reference appears to be directed primarily at white Americans.
Cowardice, eh? Hmmm… Possibly. Or perhaps just prudence. Some white folks do well to clam up about other races because their words would hurt, not help. When I was a boy I learned the words to the “choosing chant”:
Eeny, meeny, miney, mo, catch a n----r by the toe.
I wonder what racist moron made up those words. But many thousands, maybe millions, of white folks just chanted it unthinkingly, never knowing or caring where the verse came from.
Maybe a lot of whites are so afraid of being seen as politically incorrect that they say nothing. Sports commentator Howard Cosell was a friend and promoter of Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali at a time when he scared a lot of whites. But the arbiters of race cut Cosell no slack when he commented on a run by running back Alvin Garrett, “Look at that monkey go.” That season was his last on Monday Night Football. Cosell bitterly protested that he meant no insult, but he still was shoved out.
It seems to me that a lot of black folks also walk on eggs when it comes to race talk. It’s easy to criticize white America for its obviously racist past but a lot tougher to discuss calmly black America’s self-inflicted wounds of high school dropouts, illegitimate births, and violent crime.
Too much race talk wasn’t good for radio talk show host Don Imus, who felt it necessary to refer to the women’s basketball team at Rutgers University as nappy-headed ho’s. He lost his show and good riddance. Abuse neither helps nor heals.
Do we really want to ramp up race talk? I found that the campaign for and election of America’s first black president was astonishingly low-key in its racial talk. It could have been so much worse. Do we want more race talk from Al Sharpton and Rev. Jeremiah Wright?
My view is that we should neither discourage racial conversations nor force them. Learn each other’s stories. Listen first. Admit sin, repent, and ask for forgiveness. Tell the truth, but speak it in love.
How about you? What do you think? Do we need more race talk or less?
Straight talk. Real hope.