Saturday, August 08, 2009

Leonard Pitts Jr. on Race

I just read Leonard Pitts Jr.'s latest syndicated column on the subject of race and how conservatives are appropriating the use of race in ways that they supposedly detest. To capture the sentiment, Pitts starts his column off with an email he received last year. The email was short and utterly ironic. This is what it said:

"You are such a racist nigger."
Incredible, no? Then Pitts, referencing as an example conservative pundit Glenn Beck's recent charge on national television that Barack Obama is a racist, goes on to provide an excellent summation of some of my thinking on the subject, and why I think painting Obama in whiteface, for example, even in reference to Heath Ledger's Joker, is problematic. Pitts explains thus:
Plainly, this newfound concern about "racism" represents an attempt by conservatives to claim and neutralize the language of racial complaint, to do to it what they did to words like "liberal" and "feminist" -- i.e., to render it unusable.

But they are playing with fire in a dynamite warehouse.

What wound in all American life is more raw than race? What is more likely than race to suddenly flare into conflagration? Our most ruinous war was about race. Our greatest social revolution was about race. We have seen a hundred riots and rebellions fueled by race. Race is a major component of our most vexing issues: healthcare, education, the environment, crime. It is our most profound and oldest regret, a tender spot on the American psyche.

Which is why it's often difficult even for thoughtful people to have thoughtful discussions about it. One is at pains to tread carefully, to probe the issues, seek enlightenment and, yes, to dissent -- without blowing up the dynamite warehouse. Then, in walks Glenn Beck carrying a torch.
To be more specific, Pitts's reference to Glenn Beck concerns when Beck called Barack Obama a racist who hates white people on national television and then 75 seconds later said that he wasn't saying that he thought Obama didn't like white people. But the central point Pitts is trying to make is the following:
[Facing the hard truths of race head on] will never happen as long as men like Beck find it profitable to toy with fire in a warehouse full of dynamite. God forbid it takes an explosion for them to get what should be obvious:

There are some things you just don't play with.
Exactly. Read the whole column by Pitts. It's excellent. And when you're done with that, watch this (especially around about the 6 minute mark):

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Eric said...

"What is more likely than race to suddenly flare into conflagration?"

How about "most issues"?

I think we are far more likely to 'flare into conflagration' over healthcare, taxes, climate, abortion, deficits, education, foreign policy, inflation, or even smoking bans... but over race issues? I just don't see it. Who is going to do the conflagurating?

Huck said...

Eric - But even when we flare into conflagrations over the issues you mention, and as Pitts notes, race often forms a central part of such conflagrations. Taxes? Whenever I talk to my conservative cousin about taxes (and he's an accountant), his big gripe is wealth redistribution to support lazy welfare recipients -- and where I live, everyone knows that this means the black urban poor. Education? Take the subject of failing inner city schools and vouchers, not to mention affirmative action admissions policies. Foreign policy? Take anti-illegal immigration legislation and anti-islamic sentiment. Crime? The place of race in discussions of crime is so obvious it needs no further comment. That's not to say that race is predominant in all of these issues, but simply that it factors into all of them in ways that, as Pitts notes, reflects a tender spot on the American psyche. One we should be extra careful about.