Friday, April 13, 2007

Thoughts on race in America

It’s no secret that issues of race are still alive and well in America, as illustrated by the Imus controversy. The agreed-upon solution, in this case, is to curtail “offensive” speech.

Is this helpful? Does it promote trust between the races when we must carefully monitor every word that comes out of our mouths? Many blacks think that white people secretly hate them. I understand that suspicion, if they believe that societal constraints are the only thing stopping whites from spewing “hate speech.”

The fact is that many of us feel slightly uncomfortable with people from different ethnic backgrounds. Look at our churches. Nothing stops me from attending a black church, but as a white woman I would be certainly be viewed with polite curiosity. My own church is very “downtown” in character, with a lot of older white folks, college students, Hispanics, ex-druggies, drunks, and borderline lunatics of every age, gender, and color, and a handful of Nigerian and Sudanese immigrants. I don’t know how much socialization goes on between these groups, beyond church activities and invitations to holiday dinners. I suppose these things are a start.

A few years ago, I participated in a “cleaning day” at a church attended by a black co-worker, with whom I had a casual friendship. This man and I had many interests in common, and he once took me and my son fishing, in the days when I didn’t fish much. I was given a job polishing brass in a room by myself, while a group of blacks dusted, vacuumed, and washed walls in the sanctuary. I couldn’t help wondering what they thought of my being there – did they think I was trying to earn some kind of whitey merit badge? I honestly don’t know what my own motivation was, or whether it impacted the value of my efforts.

I won’t defend or excuse Don Imus’ remarks. However, I don’t think his firing will improve race relations. I am sickened by the spectacle of his former associates rushing to the nearest microphone to denounce him on camera, and claim that they had no idea that he was such an evil person. I don’t think Imus is a “racist” - he just had a fleeting lapse in judgment and said something highly inappropriate.

So, what is my solution? I don’t have one, but I don’t think that racial harmony can be built on a foundation of unspoken rules dictating how we MUST think, feel, and speak about one another. In my opinion, it would be more beneficial for all of us to publicly acknowledge our negative, stereotypical beliefs, and to confront them openly, in the pursuit of a sincere and enduring reconciliation.

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