Sticks and Stones...

 “In things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.” – Attorney General Eric Holder

I’ve been called many things in my lifetime. I’ve had more than a few nicknames. Some I liked, some I didn’t, some poignant, some obscure, and some just downright mean. But of all the comments and criticisms, the one I don’t recall ever hearing directed toward me was “coward”. I’m not sure why Mr. Holder chose the words he did, but I can tell you that I take great offense at the implications. However, if the Attorney General thinks we need to have a conversation about race, then let’s do it. But keep in mind, for every white person hesitant to bring up the issues, there’s usually a black person waiting to call them a racist if they do, so let’s not pretend that this is a one way street.

Before he even got to the coward comment, Holder suggested that “One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation.” But how much understanding is enough? Who is he trying to kid? Just a couple of months ago a certain segment of the country actually posed the question of whether or not Barack Obama was “black enough”. So maybe the problem is not with the level of understanding, but rather, understanding the level of one’s expectations. Does Holder want us to know ‘about’ slavery, or does he think that some sort of reparations are due?

Holder also pointed to the issue that “Black history is given a separate, and clearly not equal, treatment by our society,” and that “such a major part of our national story has been divorced from the whole.”  Well, correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t it the black community that actually petitioned to have a “Black History Month” in the first place? So how exactly would Holder propose to give it “equal” treatment while still holding it separate? It seems to me that the “separate but equal” debate has already been done in the area of education.

But then, that argument isn’t really settled at all is it? We still have the lingering question of affirmative action out there. Actually, Holder specifically mentioned a need for a “nuanced, principled and spirited” debate on this issue, but curiously, he prefaced it with the comment that “We still speak too much of ‘them’ and not ‘us’.” Well Mr. Attorney General, exactly how can you have affirmative action without using the term ‘them’? Regardless of the motives, affirmative action means quotas, and quotas require drawing a line between “us” and “them” and, as such, setting very real limits on “them”.

If you really want the focus to be on “US” then affirmative action is the first thing that needs to go. If it’s just about “us” then why spend time arguing that any one part of the whole “played a unique, productive role in the development of America”? As they say, there’s no “I” in “team”, and it becomes very hard to blend into a group while simultaneously proclaiming your uniqueness. If an individual wants to be a part of an “us” then he must do everything he can to put aside the petty bickering, and feigned indignation at every bump in the road.

For example, as I write this, the Reverend Al Sharpton is leading a protest against a newspaper because one of its political cartoonists tried sloppily to tie together two different current events. Apparently, in this nation of “us” we still need to consult some, yet to be determined, list of politically correct Do’s and Don’ts so that “we” don’t offend “them”. If Holder wants to talk about equality, then maybe the first step is to discuss the thickness of one’s skin, not the color of it. When I lived in downtown Louisville, Kentucky I played basketball at the nearest court with a rim. And it didn’t come as any surprise that being the only white guy there meant I got called every name in the book. At first, they wouldn’t let me play, and even when I finally got onto the court, the ball just didn’t seem to make its way around to me.  But I did my time, I took my lumps, and I stood my ground, and eventually the “him” became one of “us”, and after some time, there was once again no color, just players.

I don’t tell you this story to suggest that I know the first damn thing about being a black man in a predominantly white America. I can’t possibly comprehend what it is to be in someone else’s shoes. But I learned out there on that asphalt that respect doesn’t come from understanding as Mr. Holder suggested in his speech, but rather, understanding starts with respect. Those guys didn’t know anything about me, they didn’t know who I was or where I came from, and they didn’t care. But once they respected my persistence and desire to join the group, they couldn’t help but open up to learning more about me.

I’m not suggesting that there is no racism in the world, far from it. I’m not blind; I see plenty of wrongdoing.  But the perpetrators of these crimes against society aren’t part of some larger group actively seeking a political agenda, they’re just morons. They’re a dwindling percentage of the population too stupid to recognize their own ignorance, arrogance and intolerance. They’re not to be feared, or even pitied. They’re to be ignored, and even shunned, until evolution rids us completely of their Neanderthal mentality. You can’t legislate them away, and they’re impervious to education, so get used to it, but relax, because time is the only weapon needed.

If you focus on being an American, then you need not worry about being a minority. Not only are suffering, hardship and oppression not unique to any one group that makes up this society, they’re practically prerequisite conditions to acceptance. We may not have started this climb from the same location or at the same time or with similar equipment, but the mountain we face is the same and it’s easier to ascend when you keep your focus looking up rather than dwelling on looking down. 

Read More on Perspective
Volume 5, Issue 5, Posted 10:54 PM, 03.11.2009