Phi Beta Cons

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Another Call for a National Conversation on Race


The Chronicle of Higher Education this week features a discussion by Tuft’s Peniel E. Joseph on “Obama and the Enduring Divisions of Race.” Here’s my posted comment:

There are so many buried — and, in my view, wrongheaded — assumptions in here that one hardly knows where to start, but this sentence encapsulates a lot of what’s wrong with this piece: “While some opponents of Obama, like past critics of civil-rights legislation, oppose him on race-neutral grounds, the net effect serves to stoke feelings of racial division rather than start a robust national conversation about race and democracy, one that is needed now more than ever.” (1)  The word “some” suggests that most of Obama’s critics are not “race-neutral” — that is, are racist to one degree or another. I must politely dissent. (2) This slur is reinforced by the suggestion that his critics are of the same ilk as “past critics of civil-rights legislation.” Again, I don’t think so. (3) Even those who oppose him for race-neutral reasons are “stok[ing] feelings of racial division.” Not true and, even if it were true, are we to keep our mouths shut because our words will be misinterpreted? And (4) we really need a “robust conversation about race and democracy.” Oh, come on: We are race-obsessed enough, and what is there to discuss anyhow? Racism was and remains bad, but African Americans must own up to the fact that equally (at least) major hurdles these days are cultural: The belief that working and studying hard are “acting white” and, especially, the fact that 7 out of 10 black children are born out of wedlock. There, we’ve had our discussion. Now let’s all treat each other as human beings and take advantage of the unprecedented and unmatched blessings and opportunities this country provides.


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