The Corner

Our National God(s), Cont.

In today’s Impromptus, I have a note on a continuing theme: race, our national god. (Ethnicity is a close second.) The Marxists who educated me (so to speak) said that money was our national god. “America even has ‘In God We Trust’ on its currency. Ha ha ha ha!” But money can’t hold a candle to race.

In my column, I mention a headline in Musical America. The story was about a raucous night at La Scala: Some patrons booed Cecilia Bartoli (a controversial mezzo-soprano); some patrons cheered her. This is par for the course at La Scala, and at Italian opera houses in general. Has been going on for generations.

What was the headline in Musical America? “Old White Guys Boo Bartoli at La Scala.” What did race have to do with that night in Milan? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Almost everyone involved in the war over Bartoli was Italian, no doubt. But the headline was written by an American, or Americans — and the American mind is besotted with race. Addled by it. There is nothing that can’t be racialized, by an American.

A reader of ours writes,

Race and ethnicity are also “important” in the world of medicine. Through something called Meaningful Use, the government is essentially requiring medical practices to adopt computerized medical records. . . . As part of this initiative, we must ask every patient to categorize his race or ethnicity. I was surprised to learn that there are only two “meaningful” ways to categorize ethnicity: Hispanic and Non-Hispanic. How that improves the care I deliver to my patients is beyond me.

It has nothing to do with care, or sense. The national gods must be appeased. Was old South Africa as fervent about racial classification as we Americans are?

One more story, before I drop this, for now. At Thanksgiving, I was home in dear old Ann Arbor Town. I visited some friends of mine — a golden couple. We got to talking about the 1997 football season, and our Heisman Trophy winner, Charles Woodson. (He was the star of our University of Michigan Wolverines.)

One of my friends said, “Yeah, and you remember how upset the University of Tennessee was? They said, ‘Peyton Manning should have won, not the black guy.’” I was kind of stunned. I said, “Did they say that?” My friend smiled, sort of sheepishly.

It was natural for the Vols to want their quarterback to win the Heisman, just as it was natural for us to want our cornerback to win. I don’t think race had a thing to do with it. I think the Vols would have been just as miffed if some paleface had beaten out their Peyton.

But I know how the American mind works, certainly the Ann Arbor mind. “You’ve got to be carefully taught,” wrote Oscar Hammerstein. And we were taught a doctrine of Race über Alles, I’m afraid.

Last week, I was talking to another friend of mine, a naturalized citizen. He said, “Bad as our economic problems are, I think race will be our downfall. America is obsessed by race in a most unhealthful way.” That’s putting it mildly.

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