In his speech last week Barack Obama declared, “race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.” In response, the Los Angeles Times asks: “How do we start a national dialogue on race?”  New York Times columnist Bill Kristol advises, “[l]et’s not, and say we did,” because “[t]he last thing we need now is a heated national conversation about race.” The Stiletto agrees that Americans can not – should not – engage in a national dialogue on race relations until Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his counterparts at black churches nationwide are willing to participate in good faith.

This is what we should be talking about instead, according to Kristol: 

[S]ober, results-oriented debates about economics, social mobility, education, family policy and the like – focused especially on how to help those who are struggling. Such policy debates can lead to real change – even “change we can believe in.” “National conversations” tend to be pointless and result-less. 

Or worse. Especially when they’re about race. In 1969, Pat Moynihan, then serving on Richard Nixon’s White House staff, wrote Nixon a memo explaining that “the issue of race could benefit from a period of ‘benign neglect.’ The subject has been too much talked about. … We may need a period in which Negro progress continues and racial rhetoric fades.” Moynihan, who was reacting against the wild escalation of racial rhetoric on all sides, was unfairly pilloried when the memo was leaked in 1970. But he was right then, and his argument is right now.

But if you’re just thirsting for honest dialogue about why black Americans are at an economic and social disadvantage as compared to white Americans – and Asian Americans, for that matter – let’s start with the fact that HIV infection and drug addiction occur as a result of individual choices. Whitey is not holding a gun to anyone’s head making him smoke a crack pipe.

Let’s continue with this honest dialogue we’re having and acknowledge that much of Obama’s speech was, in fact, audaciously dishonest. Among other things, Obama asks the rest of us to cut his racist pastor some slack because, “Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation … came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted.” But Wright had an upper-middle class upbringing, living in genteel surroundings and attending one of the best schools in Philadelphia. He has no cause to damn America – and Americans have no reason to cut him any slack for his hate speech.

And let’s be honest that despite so-called “white privilege” – which, one could argue is attributable largely to making individual lifestyle choices that enhance upward mobility – most white Americans don’t think they have all that much to feel guilty about.

“More than slavery and discrimination, the loss of faith and family can be seen as the root of many of the problems in the black community,” argues columnist Cal Thomas, a self-described “typical white person.” Noting 2004 census data that found “just 31.9 percent of black households had both spouses present, compared to 56.1 percent for white households,” he believes that “when intact black families become typical, many of the self-inflicted maladies in the black community will finally become atypical.”

Further, the vast majority of whites living in the U.S. today are first, second or third-generation Americans, whose forebears came to this country well after the Civil War and who never owned slaves or financially benefited from slave labor. Go far enough back in history and you’ll find virtually every ethnic or racial group in our multicultural nation has been enslaved at one time or another in their ancestral lands. Go only as far back as the 20th century and you’ll find white ethnics – Armenians, Jews and Ukrainians – were subjected to genocide, the most extreme manifestation of racism possible.

How racially transcendent does Obama sound to these Americans when he acknowledges that they did not commit this nation’s “original sin” of slavery, yet must atone and perform acts of repentance – and do so without harboring any resentment? Can Obama even begin to appreciate how galling it is for Americans whose relatives perished as a result of state-sponsored genocide to hear Rev. Wright’s bogus claims of plots by our government to wipe out blacks with AIDS and crack cocaine?

Writing in Slate, Christopher Hitchens is hardly inclined to term Wright’s accusation that “AIDS and drugs are wrecking the black community because the white power structure wishes it?” as “inflammatory” or “controversial” and instead calls it what it is: “wicked and stupid and false.” He adds: 

[Geraldine] Ferraro may have sounded sour when she asserted that there can be political advantages to being black in the United States – and she said the selfsame thing about Jesse Jackson in 1984 – but it’s perfectly arguable that what she said is, in fact, true, and even if it isn’t true, it’s absurd to try and classify it as a racist remark. …

The consequence, which you can already feel, is an inchoate resentment among many white voters who are damned if they will be called bigots by a man who associates with Jeremiah Wright. So here we go with all that again. And this is the fresh, clean, new post-racial politics?

No, it’s same-old, same-old: Manufactured resentment perpetuated from one generation to the next – so that the slate is never wiped clean, and a fresh start can never be possible. Quoting lyrics from the musical “South Pacific” (“You have to be taught to hate and fear…You’ve got to be carefully taught”) former NY mayor Ed Koch worries about “the impact of Rev. Wright’s statements on the Senator’s two daughters … Few dispute that Rev. Wright’s sermons are filled with hate.”

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer asks Obama point-blank:

If Wright is a man of the past, why would you expose your children to his vitriolic divisiveness? This is a man who curses America and who proclaimed moral satisfaction in the deaths of 3,000 innocents at a time when their bodies were still being sought at Ground Zero. It is not just the older congregants who stand and cheer and roar in wild approval of Wright’s rants, but young people as well. Why did you give $22,500 just two years ago to a church run by a man of the past who infects the younger generation with precisely the racial attitudes and animus you say you have come unto us to transcend?

Columnist Michael Medved notes that up until now, “[b]y generally avoiding discussion of race or race relations, Obama suggested that in supporting his candidacy, Americans could finally escape from the hurts and resentments of the past” but that “at a decisive point in the race, [he] has abruptly changed the bargain. Rather than promising less race consciousness, he now insists we need more. Instead of bidding to lead a post-racial – or at least a post-racist – America, Obama’s speech tells us we must go back to picking at the old scab.”

Thomas predicts the “accusatory back and forth between races will continue beyond the current election unless all of us stop replaying past grievances.” Or dreaming up new grievances with which to stoke resentment ad infinitum.

Until Obama and his fellow congregants stop exposing their children to hate-spewing pastors like Rev. Wright a national discussion about race relations is futile.  

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog.

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