Higgins: No, we can’t talk about raceWritten by Tim Higgins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It used to be that there were only two subjects you were told you shouldn’t discuss in public — politics and religion. Now we can certainly add a third: race. Some aren’t allowed to talk about race anywhere, while others can talk about nothing else. It seems that while relationships between races improve, a rational conversation on the subject gets no closer than it has for the other two subjects.
Politicians can’t seem to talk about anything else. There’s something about turning a camera or a microphone on in front of a politician that creates an electronically generated field that disrupts rationality and enhances party politics instead. Race, as a consequence, becomes just another partisan issue in which the other party’s policies (past or present) become not only the issue, but the overriding cause. And since today’s politicians are always fundraising and running for office, any subject worthy of a recorded sound bite must be met with a carefully prepared rhetoric designed to enhance the officeholder and his or her party, denigrate opponents and encourage contributions, regardless of its relevance. In other words, it has to be full of double-speak and BS.
The media can’t talk about race because it’s not a subject that lends itself to the six or 20-minute segment (six on TV, 20 on radio). The mainstream media is a business built around the interruptions of its commercials. Any subject must be diced into convenient segments to accommodate this monetary necessity. While this might work for a birth in the British royal family, the opening of the state fair or the latest Lindsay Lohan arrest, it’s not a format that lends itself to anything resembling weighty discussion on so serious a subject.
Churches can’t talk about race because they have their own axes to grind. Religion has enough problems getting past the normal dichotomy between enforcing top-down “official religious doctrine” and dealing with the local policy interpretations of its various ministries on a multi-national basis. Throw in the flaws of human nature and the personal idiosyncrasies of those standing behind what passes for a pulpit and you end up with a confusing inconsistency that most true believers find easier to ignore. Besides, churches survive through the willing contributions of their congregations. Even with the ability to offer veiled threats of eternal damnation, they must at least to some extent follow the same rules used by politicians and the media, lest they risk the anger of their audience, i.e., contributors.
The general public can’t talk about race because they’re scared to death of it. In today’s Twitter-connected, Facebook-addicted, politically correct society, an incorrect public pronouncement on such a subject could well make one an unemployable social pariah, soon abandoned by even friends and family electronically and otherwise.
Life moves damned fast these days and there’s little time (and often less interest) in doing proper research on anything that doesn’t help pay the bills every month. Far too many happily accept the instant gratification of the prepackaged answers supplied without question.
Besides, discussions of race are also generational and such conversations, like the species, continue to evolve. Those old enough to remember real historic discrimination are fewer and further between every day. For the rest of us, differences one generation cannot get beyond are far less apparent to their offspring, and all but invisible (if not inconsequential) to succeeding generations. Any multigenerational discussion therefore becomes difficult (if not impossible), since there is no singular frame of reference for all involved.
Oh, I know that we would like to talk about race, that we should talk about it and that, somehow, we have to keep on trying to do so. But it’s unlikely today that any conversation will end up the same one that we started with, the one that we want, or the one we should have.
Tim Higgins blogs at justblowing smoke.blogspot.com.