February 19th, 2009


Discussion: A Nation of Cowards?

The following article alleges that: 1) Americans do not discuss racial issues enough, and therefore 2) Americans are cowards.

Holder: US a "Nation of Cowards" on Race Discussions
Terry Frieden, CNN: "In a blunt assessment of race relations in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday called the American people 'essentially a nation of cowards' in failing to openly discuss the issue of race. In his first major speech since being confirmed, the nation's first black attorney general told an overflow crowd celebrating Black History Month at the Justice Department the nation remains 'voluntarily socially segregated.'"

I think that: 1) Americans do not discuss racial issues enough, 2) there are some serious racial problems that need discussion and solution, 3) SOME Americans are cowardly about discussions of race while others are not, 4) and calling people "cowards" unfairly denies credit to courageous debators and activists while merely offending people who don't generally discuss racism. Just because one has a point doesn't necessarily mean that one has expressed it in an efficient and effective manner. If you want people to do something, calling them names is unlikely to make them do it.

Furthermore, just because someone is not an activist on a given issue doesn't necessarily mean they're cowardly about it; they may have their hands full with some other worthy cause(s) and/or they may not have encountered a situation in which that particular issue brought itself to their attention vividly. "Coward" implies a decision to flee from a discussion due to moral failing; not everyone has necessarily confronted such a decision point or had the resources to devote to pursuing it vigorously.

So I found the article interesting, and it had some valid points, but they could have been presented in a more constructive and effective way. When it comes to discussing racism, I've been consistently impressed with Teaching Tolerance.

If you want to start a discussion, there are two pretty reliable ways: 1) Make it attractive to people, usually by attaching it to an interest or benefit of theirs; frex, illuminate how racism relates to other problems America is facing. 2) Put it somewhere they can't simply weasel around it easily, as the civil rights movement did.

Since I am interested in promoting the kind of harmonious heterogenous society that racism undermines, I'll just pick up the ball and see where it goes. Given that we've got a President of mixed ethnic background (commonly identified as "America's first black President") who is building a governing team that includes people of widely assorted ethnic backgrounds, for the purpose of leading a country many of whose citizens prefer to self-segregate ... what do you think is going to happen? Will that delightfully mixed leadership come up with great ideas only to be stonewalled by a citizenship that stubbornly behaves like oil and water? Or will the good example at high levels inspire people farther down to mix more? What are some things we could be doing to facilitate healthy and productive discussions of race issues? Does the current government expand our options in that regard, compared to previous governments, and if so how can we take advantage of new opportunities?