Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What a Difference and More of the Same

Today's New York Times piece about the role of race in American politics and American society is a deeply disappointing expose of how far we've got to go. But instead of wringing our hands and lamenting the problem, let's confront the issue directly, all the better to put it aside.

A color-blind society may never be in the cards for us. We're too pluralistic a society, for one, and second of all it's an oversimplification to think that even those of us who share the same skin color would think with one voice, or be one monolithic entity. This is the nation of rugged individualism, after all. And by this, I aim to emphasize we may simply be unable undo the ways things are and may always be.

As it was eight years ago, few Americans have regular contact with people of other races, and few say their own workplaces or their own neighborhoods are integrated.

Despite massive works to the contrary back in the era of Civil Rights, I honestly don't think it's realistic to expect that different racial and ethnic groups will ever intermarry, intermingle, or interact openly. Our cultural differences, societal expectations, and means of looking at the world keep us separated. And maybe they're nothing wrong with separate, but equal, after all. It might be the best outcome we could ever expect.

I'm assuming that we really could someday be equal, though separate. I don't call for separate facilities and separate accommodations. I don't call for a return to legislated segregation. I don't believe any group of people should be somehow less than, but I do call for a spirit of mutual co-existence between all Americans, which is going to probably be the best we can ever really expect. Think of the continent of Europe, by contrast, which contains a plethora of different societal mores, cultural folkways, expectations, and languages.

The French wish to keep their own culture, as do the Spanish, as do the Germans, as do the English...and so on and so forth. As I recall, after blowing itself up for thousands of years, Europe has finally settled into a kind of workable live-and-let-live attitude. Taking into account the lessons of history and the odds, let me reiterate that it is highly unfeasible that we'll ever fully adopt Dr. King's Dream.

“Basically it’s the same old problem, the desire for power,” Macie Mitchell, a Pennsylvania Democrat from Erie County, who is black, said in a follow-up interview after participating in the poll. “People get so obsessed with power and don’t want to share it. There are people who are not used to blacks being on top.”

This I agree with wholeheartedly. But what is unsaid in this article is the reason many whites feel this way. They do not wish to confront the chance of having the tables turned on them and being reduced to second-class citizens themselves. And in all honesty, human nature being what it is, I can understand this fear for what it is. If any other ethnic or racial group becomes the majority, they will have to be careful to govern without holding a attitude of resentment and desire to punish those who in the past held them in chains.

If Obama is elected, he will certainly be held to a higher standard due to his race. Instead of lamenting this however, and resorting to the ain't-it-awful chorus that is reassuring but totally unproductive, why don't we take this opportunity, no matter our cultural allegiance, and work to explode the stigma. A successful Obama administration has much to prove, but, if elected, he proves to be a competent and wise Commander-in-Chief, then many bigoted and racist viewpoints motivated out of fear will be proven erroneous and nonsensical.

No comments: