Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Race in the race

There’s actually been fairly little emphasis, in the election campaign, put on Barack Obama’s race, and I’m happy to see the extent to which that’s so. But it keeps cropping up in odd ways — in sometimes very odd ways. For example, we have Geraldine Ferraro’s comment that he wouldn’t be a front-runner in this campaign if her weren’t a black man; we have Jeremiah Wright’s flaming sermons, which Senator Obama has, not surprisingly, pushed away from; we have today’s upcoming speech about race that’s promised by the candidate.

I find Ms Ferraro’s comment, and the general response to it, particularly interesting. On the one hand, I think it was a stupid thing to say, for a couple of reasons: first, it served no useful purpose; second, she had to know how it would be received, and that it could not help her side of the battlefield.

I also disagree with what she said. I think that anyone with Senator Obama’s personality and drive might indeed be in his position, and to say that it was somehow easier for him to get there because of his race is rather bizarre.

On the other hand, I agree with one thing she’s saying in her own defense: it’s not a “racist” statement, and her saying that doesn’t make her racist. Misguided, maybe. Foolish, maybe. We can come up with other characterizations, but let’s not.

Because, here’s the thing: we’re in an awkward state right now. When anyone mentions race, she’s either “racist” or “playing the race card,” depending upon which side of the fence she sits. And that’s just silly. It is possible to talk about race, to mention it as something that exists and is part of who we are, collectively... without using it as a shillelagh. We have to get back to being able to talk about it.

It’ll be interesting to see what Senator Obama has to say today. I’ll read about it with interest. And I don’t think he’ll be “playing the race card.”

1 comment:

scouter573 said...

There are two observations that I'd like to offer. First, I agree it was a stupid thing to say, more stupid to fail to see the response, and even more stupid to fan the flames by denying the stupidity of it. Just where has she been since 1954? Or 1864, for that matter? Or 1776? Second, it is fascinating to think that someone would advance a person's blackness as an advantage. Surely she can offer many other examples where black people have been treated positively because of their race. Oh, yeah. Like how easy it is to hail a cab in the city at night? Like how easy it is to get a college education? Or easy to get a job? Or easy to find a house in a "nice" neighborhood? Yep, those are all great examples of the advantages of being black in America. And before someone gets too confused, I believe I must acknowledge a problem as the first step to fixing it. As much progress as has been made, we have room for improvement. Let us accept that we can do better so that we can fulfill the promise of our founders wrote into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We can do better.