(cross posted at Forbes Avenue)
Well, first. There are so few.
No, seriously — let me start by saying that the fact that we have a president who talks about race seriously at all is a huge step in the right direction.
That said, I am frequently distressed by what the president actually says when he does speak about race. Because I think he is (perhaps unintentionally) intellectually dishonest about how race truly operates, what life is actually like as a Black person, and what it will take to really create equality of opportunity and an equitable division of resources (which are two very different things that require two separate, but specific, approaches).
Unlike most people, I thought the Philadelphia speech was terrible, ahistorical, and dangerous. I thought in his attempt to appeal to both White and Black, he made a crucial mistake that many people make when discussing race — equating Black and White feelings about, and experiences with, race symmetrically. Meaning White people’s resentment at Black progress was the same as Black frustration with being oppressed.
Simply – though both are legitimate, they are not equal.
To suggest, as he did, that they are, I think is dangerous. I think it contributes to a feeling of fatigue in America. Fatigue with remedies for past wrongs. Fatigue with talking about Black people when we can talk about White people. Fatigue fatigue fatigue.
This is perhaps unavoidable. He is a politician and there are many more White people than there are Black people. He must say what will allow him to stay in power and do what he wants to do to help everyone. I get that.
But because race operates the way it does, what any prominent Black person says carries enormous weight. In this case, what he’s saying is incredibly detrimental to a concerted, real fight to end racism (it’s great, if you’re goal is bettering race relations…but yea, that’s a different goal).
We’ve got to find language that talks honestly, directly, and passionately to the specific and unique experience of being Black in America without it being assumed that, by doing so, we ignore everyone else.