brotherpeacemaker

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My Time With Gwen Ifill

This past Saturday I went and saw Gwen Ifill do a book signing and discussion.  This past weekend was to makeup for Ms. Ifill’s cancellation of a book signing in St. Louis scheduled way back in January.  Sister girl’s been busy.  She finally kept her appointment and penciled St. Louis in.  The affair was held at the Mary Institute and Country Day School (MICDS) out in Ladue, arguably St. Louis’ ritziest municipality by far.  This is the same Ladue that recently made the news because it was discovered that black drivers were a thousand percent more likely to be pulled over by the local police officer than white drivers.  But the law enforcers for the municipality say that the state data confirming the disparity is misleading and that there are other factors involved.  What they are Ladue has yet to say.

The book signing, lecture, and discussion was held at the Danforth Chapel, presumably named after the same Danforth family responsible for our former Senator John Danforth.  Ms. Ifill was introduced by local television personality Vicki Newton, another sister girl who does the prime time local news anchor spot opposite long time St. Louis television personality Larry Conners.  The introduction was short and to the point and totally forgetful.  But when Ms. Ifill was given her cue to take center stage most everybody in the audience gave her a standing ovation.

Like most high profile personalities doing a book tour, Ms. Ifill was charming and graceful.  Her lecture was intelligent and interesting.  I bought three copies of her book: one for me, one for my mom, and one for my sister whose birthday is quickly coming up and probably would appreciate a signed copy from Ms. Ifill.

But one thing that I found troubling about Ms. Ifill, it is the same thing that virtually all high profile black celebrities suffer from with an unfortunate very, very few exceptions, is her strong desire to appease the dominant community.  Why?  Let me try to tell you what I’m feeling.

The name of Ms. Ifill’s latest book is The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.  It seems Ms. Ifill is somewhat concerned about the lack of racial harmony in America.  In her lecture, she talked about how United States Attorney General Eric Holder hit the nail on the head when he basically said that America is a land of cowards for its inability to face the ever simmering in the background issue of race.  We have allowed ourselves to be damaged by race.  We avoid the issue even when it is the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room.  We try to get around it without doing anything to bring attention to the obvious.

Ms. Ifill demonstrated her point by talking about one function she attended where she was only one of two black people in attendance.  Someone was trying to talk to her about the other black person.  They started to describe the person, blue blazer, khaki pants, striped shirt, green tie, etcetera.  Ms. Ifill piped in, you mean the black guy?  The other person all red faced said, well now that you mention it, I never noticed.  We don’t want to even acknowledge race when it can make a lot of things a whole lot easier.

Ms. Ifill says she welcomes an opportunity to discuss race as long as it can be done without blame, guilt, or reprisal.  And that’s exactly what a lot of people who came to hear Ms. Ifill speak wanted to hear.  Another black person the community admires is trying to tell people that the black community needs to get over itself.  The same barriers that are in place today are not the same barriers that were in place a generation ago and if we continue down the path we’re on it makes sense to believe that the barriers will be different in the future.

My problem is that we should make no mistake and realize that there will be barriers.  Racial disparity seems to be the norm for America and we should just live with it because we don’t want to upset anybody by talking about blame, guilt, or reprisal.  How does that happen?  When we have blight, unemployment, poor schools, no capital investment, crumbling infrastructure, and less in the black community are we ready to put aside blame and guilt to set the matter straight?  Absolutely not!

The school that hosted the lecture is one of the finest in the state.  The equipment provided for the education of the students is top notch.  Compare that to the condition of a competing school in the urban black neighborhoods not ten miles away like Sumner or Beaumont where students learn the laws of physics by dodging tiles falling from the ceiling and kicking up a cloud of asbestos dust.  We tolerate that disparity because so many of us want to view any attempt to help straighten out this mess as some kind of reprisal.

So instead of us being able to have an honest discussion of how we can turn this school around with some kind of investment that appears not to be a problem some place like MIDC, we want to categorize the repair and restoration of black schools and the rest of the black community as some kind of reprisal.  How many people are quick to see the investment to repair black schools as some kind of retribution undeserved and a burden on hardworking, tax paying Americans?  Therefore, talk about repairing the schools are to be avoided like everything else that can be easily distinguished by race.  Too many people feel that the discussion of race relationships is a mine field full of explosives ready to blow at the slightest trigger.  It’s better to continue with race based blinders than to anything to confront disparity.

How can we have an honest discussion about race relations when the black community sits broken and abandoned by the very people who are most responsible for it being broken?  Repair the black community, restore the black community to a point where it can sustain itself and maybe then we can have that conversation without fear of pain or reprisal.  But as long as the black community is in pain then people need to expect to hear about it.  To expect otherwise is truly lending credence to this racial dysfunction called America.

Sunday, July 11, 2010 - Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black People, Life, Racism, Thoughts |

20 Comments »

  1. “We don’t want to even acknowledge race when it can make a lot of things a whole lot easier.”

    And yet, I’ve often had people complain at events I do that they can’t *stand* being identified in a group setting as black, rather than by the color of their clothing, as white people generally are.

    Assuming one perspective isn’t right, while the other’s wrong, it seems as though matters of race are more complicated than Ifill’s example would suggest. I don’t mean that white people are in a no-win situation with regard to race (although that may be true). I mean that the idea of race is so pernicious that there’s no way to win within our current framework of race.

    On another note, you say that your critique of Ifill is that you think she shows a “strong desire to appease the dominant community.” As far as I can tell, your argument for this is that she calls for addressing issues of race “without blame, guilt, or reprisal.”

    I think this raises two critical questions: Are blame, guilt, or reprisal deserved, on the part of those who would take part in the conversation? And would blame, guilt, and reprisal help move the conversation, and the goal of repair, forward, or hold it back?

    Comment by James | Monday, July 12, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for the feedback James,

      “…Are blame, guilt, or reprisal deserved, on the part of those who would take part in the conversation? And would blame, guilt, and reprisal help move the conversation, and the goal of repair, forward, or hold it back…”

      Why the focus on a conversation? Why not put a focus on the repair of the black community? Are we to assume that all we need is a discussion to put things right? Do we even acknowledge the fact that things in the black community are in need of repair and something should be done? Or are all of these things to be determined per the outcome of our conversation? Why not add the need to avoid blame, guilt, and reprisal to that conversation instead of making it a precondition for discussion? Why don’t we make the repair of the black community a precondition for the discussion? Why is only the precondition that clearly is meant to absolve the dominant community of responsibility the only one worth examining?

      Peace

      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Monday, July 12, 2010 | Reply

      • “Why the focus on a conversation?”

        In this case, I mentioned conversation because you said Ifill was talking about blame, guilt, and reprisal in the context of when and how to have discussions about race.

        In general, I don’t believe there can be much progress on repair without extensive education and conversation. So this isn’t about goals, but about how to get there.

        In particular, I’m not trying to suggest that we simply need to talk things out–far from it, although I believe from experience that some of our nation’s racial woes can be addressed directly with greater knowledge and understanding.

        “Do we even acknowledge the fact that things in the black community are in need of repair and something should be done? Or are all of these things to be determined per the outcome of our conversation?”

        I think you and I can certainly agree on the need for repair. There are many Americans, however, who do not agree, and so for them, I do believe that the education process needs to include the (relatively quick and easy) task of showing them that much still needs to be done.

        This is a great example, because a lot of people who reject the notion of repair will change their tune very quickly once they’re forced to confront the basic reality of the situation.

        “Why not add the need to avoid blame, guilt, and reprisal to that conversation instead of making it a precondition for discussion?”

        On avoiding expressions of blame, guilt, reprisal, as well as feelings like hatred, anger or resentment, I think we need to *both* make this a precondition for conversations *and* expect that such feelings will come up and need to be dealt with.

        I see this as no different from starting with the belief that repair is required. You and I and Ifill know, from the outset, that repair is required, and are familiar with the facts that make this obvious. Many people in the conversation are not, and so we know how the conversation will go, but they need to get there, don’t they? At least if I’m right and bringing the majority of Americans into basic understanding on this issue will be required to make much more progress?

        “Why is only the precondition that clearly is meant to absolve the dominant community of responsibility the only one worth examining?”

        I think Ifill is talking about both what is appropriate and what is practical in order to achieve our ends.

        It’s certainly true that if we begin with the premise that what you refer to as the dominant community is responsible for this mess, most of them will refuse to take part. This may make for a satisfying conversation, but it will not bridge the major racial divides in this country or begin to change most people’s minds.

        Now, I doubt Ifill wants to absolve anyone of responsibility for what they’ve actually done. But these conversations tend to degenerate quickly into attributing more responsibility onto people today than they actually have. I think we need to approach these conversations with a solid grasp of the facts, without employing stereotypes or wildly attributing responsibility to people of any race for anything they haven’t done, and then expect to confront and deal with any legitimate emotions or preconceptions that people bring to the table.

        Comment by James | Monday, July 12, 2010

      • James,

        “…I think Ifill is talking about both what is appropriate and what is practical in order to achieve our ends…”

        I don’t think it’s a matter of practicality. I think it is of convenience that the dominant community says that we have to leave blame, quilt, and reprisal off the table. Finding and understanding the root of the black community’s problem is a logical, healthy, and necessary step towards ending the problem. If the black community’s problem is rooted in a systematic, institutionalized form of racism then there should be a great deal of interest in finding and understanding who is guilty of that racism and what can be done to change it.

        Without thinking so many people will say that’s the past and it’s not worth studying because it has no application to the future. Why is that the case when there are people who make their living from studying history’s detail to minutia in order to help assure we don’t fall into the same trap? Instead, the dominant community will say that we need to have our conversation without the need to find out why things are the way they are and therefore develop a half-assed solution, or fully-assed depending on the case, that is filled with rhetoric and little substance like black people need to get an education all the while the schools in the black community are crumbling. Even the simplistic solutions don’t hold water under the most cursory forms of scrutiny.

        Black people who already have a career or some form of success in their life will argue that things won’t get better until we give up our need to assign blame. Who cares about blame and generating guilt? The people who started the black community down the path of second class citizenship and subjugation are long gone. How many years has it been, fifty, A hundred, two hundred or maybe three? But if we take an honest analysis of America’s history and see that America itself is to blame, America itself is guilty, then it is America that should take responsibility and offer reprisal.

        Practically speaking it will never happen. So let’s not try to use the subterfuge of making the assignment of blame, guilt, and/or reprisal a nonnegotiable condition for our discussion. Because if we as a country are truly guilty of neglecting our black community, then we as a country should be willing to do what we can to set the matter straight. And if that’s not the case, if America is not guilty of any crime against the black community, it shouldn’t matter. The black community still needs real help.

        Peace

        Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Monday, July 12, 2010

      • “I don’t think it’s a matter of practicality. I think it is of convenience that the dominant community says that we have to leave blame, quilt, and reprisal off the table.”

        Is it convenient for a lot of people not to have those subjects on the table? Sure. And maybe we disagree about whether it would even make any sense to put blame, guilt or reprisal on the table.

        But I can’t imagine how you would argue that it’s not tremendously important, if we want to make actual progress towards repair, to make inroads with the dominant community. That means education, and in ways that will be heard. I think introducing blame, guilt, and reprisal guarantees that most people will stop listening.

        “If the black community’s problem is rooted in a systematic, institutionalized form of racism then there should be a great deal of interest in finding and understanding who is guilty of that racism and what can be done to change it.”

        Oh, I don’t mean avoiding this topic at all!

        I mean not making assumptions about anyone, but rather asking what, in fact, people do that makes them complicit in racism or racial inequities. And asking about the enormous burden of race inherited from the past, which drives most of that systemic, institutionalized racial injustice regardless of who does, or doesn’t, make a conscious choice to participate.

        If Ifill meant that we should absolve anyone of their personal responsibility for racism before the conversation starts, then I certainly disagree with her.

        “Why is that the case when there are people who make their living from studying history’s detail to minutia in order to help assure we don’t fall into the same trap?”

        I think it’s precisely because conversations about race in this country have, since at least the Civil War, been mired in blame, guilt, and the threat of reprisals. It’s hard enough to get anyone to listen to the basic facts about their society’s racist past and how it matters today, or about their own personal behavior, without adding a sense of responsibility for actions not their own.

        “Instead, the dominant community will say that we need to have our conversation without the need to find out why things are the way they are and therefore develop a half-assed solution, or fully-assed depending on the case, that is filled with rhetoric and little substance ….”

        You’re absolutely right. Which is why I think we need to finally get people to see the full, complete truth. And that won’t happen if we’re also throwing around accusations of blame, beyond what the facts support or what individuals have earned.

        “if we take an honest analysis of America’s history and see that America itself is to blame, America itself is guilty, then it is America that should take responsibility and offer reprisal.”

        That’s fine as far as it goes. But I think that many members of the dominant community, at least in the programming I’ve done, hear something different: that they, personally, are guilty for what others did, that they are overtly, consciously racist, and that they, personally, need to atone for what others have done. This is very different from understanding the sins of their society and accepting responsibility, as privileged members of society who are not unconnected to all of this, for addressing the issue of repair.

        “Practically speaking it will never happen.”

        Perhaps not. But I see minds changing, every day, as people are introduced to the reality, rather than the myths, about our history and contemporary society. So I’m not prepared to give up hope.

        Comment by James | Monday, July 12, 2010

      • James,

        ”But I can’t imagine how you would argue that it’s not tremendously important, if we want to make actual progress towards repair, to make inroads with the dominant community. That means education, and in ways that will be heard.”

        When did education require a preconceived condition about not assigning blame, guilt, or reprisal? It’s a moot point because the dominant community already knows it is responsible for the conditions of the black community and simply doesn’t want to face up to facts. As long as we can make such a conversation dependent on not assigning blame and not looking for responsibility, we can give the illusion that we want to repair race relations. But as long as the black community continues to suffer its substandard condition then I hardly think anything can come of any conversation.

        ”It’s hard enough to get anyone to listen to the basic facts about their society’s racist past and how it matters today, or about their own personal behavior, without adding a sense of responsibility for actions not their own.”

        Why is that? We don’t have problems assigning blame when it is the history of the Jewish community being discussed. We didn’t have a problem assessing blame and the subsequent need for retribution when the Japanese community was unfairly rounded up and assigned to internment camps. And yet, we don’t want to trouble our dominant community with details of who is at fault about the black community and what we can to repair it.

        And who was going to have a conversation about race relations after the civil war, or during America’s embrace of Jim Crow and other institutions meant to segregate and therefore keep black people in a perpetually dependent phase? They didn’t want to talk about who was responsible then because they were intent on keeping the racial status quo. People don’t want to have that conversation now, at least not honestly, because people are intent on keeping the racial status quo.

        ”I see minds changing, every day, as people are introduced to the reality, rather than the myths, about our history and contemporary society.”

        If that’s the case then bring it to the conversation. If people feel that nothing needs to be done because it is getting better all on its own then let that be said. But don’t expect people who are neck deep in unemployment or suffering from an education system that has neglected their local schools or people who are being railroaded by a justice and legal system intent on keeping black people from getting out of hand to be so generous. Just because things are getting better doesn’t mean we have yet to take any steps towards making the black community whole again. It is quite the contrary. The black community is in more trouble now than it was when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law. I don’t see things getting better. I see things getting better for few. When things get better we won’t have a need for a discussion about race or preconditions on discussions. The idea that things are getting better is just another illusion.

        “So I’m not prepared to give up hope.”

        And for the record, I am far from giving up hope which is why I chose to write about this quite often. I still believe we can come together as a people to resolve the issue of race. But it won’t happen as long as we will ignore what is happening right before our eyes. When we are serious about racial healing we will put the need for conditions in its proper place. When did justice for a horrendous act in America start with a conversation that was free of blame, guilt, or any chance for reprisal? Only when it comes to issues of race do we entertain such a notion.

        But I am willing to compromise. If someone was willing to say that we need a conversation about issues of race in America without hatred, I’m all for it. I’m down with it when someone says we need to have a conversation about issues of race without preconceived notions based on racial stereotypes. I think that’s a worthwhile conversation.

        Peace

        Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Monday, July 12, 2010

  2. “When did education require a preconceived condition about not assigning blame, guilt, or reprisal?”

    I think most of what we’re saying, we actually agree about.

    I’m talking about not assigning inappropriate blame, guilt, or reprisal. I believe I’ve been clear that’s all I’m talking about. If you believe that Ifill is looking to rule out blaming individual people for their individual wrongdoing, or to hold back on blaming our society for its past or present sins, then I’m certainly not endorsing that!

    “It’s a moot point because the dominant community already knows it is responsible for the conditions of the black community and simply doesn’t want to face up to facts.”

    I would strongly question this. I could be wrong, but I spend a lot of time interacting with the dominant community on these issues, and time and again, I find people who sincerely believe myths about our history or society today which wash away any such responsibility.

    Examples range from thinking that slavery didn’t bring the nation lasting economic benefits, to thinking that all races faced equal opportunities after 1865, to believing that the disadvantages faced by freed black slaves weren’t transmitted through the generations to today.

    If you believe a long series of myths like these, it’s hard to see how the dominant community bears any responsibility for the plight of black Americans today. If you know the truth, on the other hand, it’s hard not to.

    “We don’t have problems assigning blame when it is the history of the Jewish community being discussed.”

    Do you mean, for instance, the Nazi Holocaust? We don’t have similar myths about that, largely because our own society wasn’t responsible. The Nuremberg tribunals let us put the true facts into the historical record, without anyone worrying about their own responsibility.

    The history of American slavery, racism, and discrimination, on the other hand, is one which the dominant community (consciously or unconsciously) has had plenty of motivation to re-write over the years.

    For instance, I’ve studied how the Civil War was remembered, both after it ended and a century later, during the centennial commemorations of the war. White northerners and southerners gradually joined together to tell a story in which both sides in the war were courageous soldiers, joined in shared sacrifice because of slavery. In this view, slavery was a southern sin which was paid for by North and South, for which there were no lasting harms or benefits, and northern attempts at imposing racial equality after the war were misguided.

    In this telling, both North and South are forever excused from any further responsibility for slavery and racism. This is a natural process of retelling in any society, and one which must be consciously opposed if the truth is to be understood.

    “We didn’t have a problem assessing blame and the subsequent need for retribution when the Japanese community was unfairly rounded up and assigned to internment camps.”

    Didn’t we? That was a very specific set of actions, carried out by identifiable people, yet the Supreme Court approved their actions and no one was ever held accountable.

    Yes, two generations later, there were apologies and reparations, and I use this example all the time in talking about reparations for slavery.

    “People don’t want to have that conversation now, at least not honestly, because people are intent on keeping the racial status quo.”

    Most people are certainly reluctant to change the racial status quo. But then, surveys show that most people have no idea what that status quo is, and when they learn, they usually start changing their tune, at least somewhat.

    “Just because things are getting better doesn’t mean we have yet to take any steps towards making the black community whole again.”

    I agree. I was saying that minds do change when education occurs, not that education necessarily happens, or that it’s enough.

    I would turn this back on you: do you see any of this changing without first changing, if you will, hearts and minds? If so, how?

    Comment by James | Monday, July 12, 2010 | Reply

    • James,

      “I would turn this back on you: do you see any of this changing without first changing, if you will, hearts and minds? If so, how?”

      Okay, I’ll bite. How do you plan to win the hearts and minds of people who believe myths about our history or society today which wash away any such responsibility? Why would such people, if they honestly don’t believe that they have anything to fear, why would they require a precondition that takes blame and guilt off the table? What education would change these people? Why would people like Gwen Ifill want to cater to these individuals and indulge their position to avoid blame, and therefore culpability, and not people who feel just as strongly on the opposite end of this intellectual spectrum who would argue that a conversation about race requires admission of guilt and responsibility? What high profile black celebrity would do the same for the other end of this argument’s divide?

      Peace

      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Monday, July 12, 2010 | Reply

      • “Okay, I’ll bite. How do you plan to win the hearts and minds of people who believe myths about our history or society today which wash away any such responsibility?”

        I must not have been clear. I’m planning to change their minds precisely by eradicating those myths.

        “Why would such people, if they honestly don’t believe that they have anything to fear, why would they require a precondition that takes blame and guilt off the table?”

        If they don’t believe they have any connection to responsibility for this history, or issues of race today, then why *wouldn’t* they react badly to suggestions that they ought to bear blame and guilt for race?

        I don’t see this as catering, but as asking ourselves reasonable questions, including how to bring people to the table so that we can talk openly and honestly about the truth.

        “Why [not cater to] people who feel just as strongly on the opposite end of this intellectual spectrum who would argue that a conversation about race requires admission of guilt and responsibility?”

        You want white people to admit guilt and responsibility for our present problems of race? Don’t you agree that most of our present problems are a legacy of a long history of slavery and racism, and by the failure to address this history sooner?

        Do you think it would be constructive to ask people to admit guilt and responsibility for things they haven’t done? As opposed to asking them to acknowledge what they have inherited, in a variety of ways, from this history, and the ways in which they perpetuate this legacy today?

        Again, I turned this around and asked you what you think would be more effective at achieving your goal, which is repair. I’d be very interested in your answer, given that I don’t see how any significant steps towards repair will happen with the vast majority of the country not even seeing the problem the way you or I do.

        Comment by James | Monday, July 12, 2010

      • James,

        You truly are not being clear…

        “If they don’t believe they have any connection to responsibility for this history, or issues of race today, then why *wouldn’t* they react badly to suggestions that they ought to bear blame and guilt for race?

        I don’t see this as catering, but as asking ourselves reasonable questions, including how to bring people to the table so that we can talk openly and honestly about the truth.”

        Again, if these people do not believe they have any connection to America’s history of racism, why would we have to make no discussion of blame, guilt, or reprisal a condition in order to get their participation in the conversation? They are going to react badly? Is that why? Okay then, do we ever worry about people reacting badly because we don’t include these conditions? Why don’t we worry about other people who might feel the need to discuss responsibility as part of the conversation? Why don’t we worry about keeping these people part of our conversation for some irrational fear that they might drop out? What high profile black celebrity argues for the inclusion of these conditions like Gwen Ifill argues for their exclusion? Why is it so obviously one sided?

        “You want white people to admit guilt and responsibility for our present problems of race? Don’t you agree that most of our present problems are a legacy of a long history of slavery and racism, and by the failure to address this history sooner?

        Do you think it would be constructive to ask people to admit guilt and responsibility for things they haven’t done? As opposed to asking them to acknowledge what they have inherited, in a variety of ways, from this history, and the ways in which they perpetuate this legacy today?”

        I beg your pardon James. When did I ever say that white people need to admit guilt? I do believe I said that this is America’s problem. I didn’t say that this was a problem for white Americans. This is part of the problem with our conversations. All too often people feel that the term America is a reference to white people and therefore only white people need to do something to help the black community gain its footing. People have a tendency to forget that America is a collection of races…including black people.

        Peace

        Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Monday, July 12, 2010

  3. “Again, if these people do not believe they have any connection to America’s history of racism, why would we have to make no discussion of blame, guilt, or reprisal a condition in order to get their participation in the conversation?”

    I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be any discussion of blame, guilt, or reprisal. In fact, I’ve specifically said that any legitimate issues of blame, guilt, or reprisal *should* be on the table.

    Why would we want to begin such a conversation by casting blame at anyone for anything they haven’t done? Instead of helping people to see the responsibility they’ve inherited from the acts of others long dead, and the ways in which their own actions have contributed to the problem, or failed to address it?

    I don’t believe the fact that these people don’t see their connection to this history should make us want to blame them for a history they took no part in. Instead, it should make us eager to find ways to reach them, to dispel these myths so that they *do* see the connection between history and themselves, so that they can accept responsibility for what they’ve inherited.

    You may see that as coddling people on race, and I’m not interested in arguing. I just think it’s the only practical way forward, and I don’t see any point in blaming individuals for broader problems anyway.

    “Why don’t we worry about other people who might feel the need to discuss responsibility as part of the conversation?”

    As I’ve said, I absolutely believe in making legitimate issues of responsibility a part of the conversation. So I think we agree here.

    “When did I ever say that white people need to admit guilt?”

    Thank you for the correction. You talked about those “who would argue that a conversation about race requires admission of guilt.” I thought you were suggesting that it would be legitimate to consider the position that any conversation about race include admissions of guilt, which I assumed (probably wrongly) meant mostly white people.

    If you merely meant what I do, that there are issues of individual responsibility for what individual people have done, as well as broad social responsibility that all members of society need to take up as their own, and that these must be part of the nation’s conversation on race, then we’re in agreement.

    “I do believe I said that this is America’s problem. I didn’t say that this was a problem for white Americans.”

    I couldn’t agree more, and you’ve said this beautifully. I spend a great deal of time trying to make the point that we should not equate the United States, or American society, with white people, and that responsibility for our society’s history and contemporary problems rests with all of us.

    Comment by James | Monday, July 12, 2010 | Reply

    • James,

      “Why would we want to begin such a conversation by casting blame at anyone for anything they haven’t done? Instead of helping people to see the responsibility they’ve inherited from the acts of others long dead, and the ways in which their own actions have contributed to the problem, or failed to address it?”

      Who said anything about blaming individuals? I have said it before and I will say it again for those who weren’t listening. This is America’s problem. America is a collective of people. America is not an individual so I don’t see how you can get the two so confused. America has inherited this problem and America continues to perpetuate this problem. If certain individuals don’t believe that America is culpable, even after all the evidence and logic applied to this persistent problem, that’s fine. There are people at the other end of the spectrum that believes America is as guilty as all sin and are ready to add their voice to the conversation. Why people like Ms. Ifill feel that they have to accommodate only one group is beyond me. Who advocates for the others? Why do so many people want to protect the interests of people who have no interest in doing anything to repair the black community? And even more puzzling, why would high profile black people who should have some kind of compassion for, and should be able to relate to, the black community would be willing to protect the interest of people who could not care any less? And this doesn’t sound like some form of appeasement?

      Peace

      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Tuesday, July 13, 2010 | Reply

      • “Who said anything about blaming individuals?”

        I was talking about how people would react badly if they are blamed as individuals, and you objected to this statement, saying that we should not take blame, guilt, or reprisal off the table. So I thought you must mean taking them off the table in the way I was talking about. I guess I was jumping to conclusions, and I don’t understand your objection after all.

        “There are people at the other end of the spectrum that believes America is as guilty as all sin and are ready to add their voice to the conversation. Why people like Ms. Ifill feel that they have to accomodate only one group is beyond me. Who advocates for the others?”

        I don’t believe that Ifill wants to accommodate those who believe that the U.S. bears no guilt for what has happened, or that she would not accommodate those who believe otherwise.

        I read her (and of course I could be wrong) as saying that talk of blame, guilt, or reprisal for anyone in the discussion wouldn’t lead to constructive conversations (and I agree with that).

        Comment by James | Tuesday, July 13, 2010

      • James,

        “I read her (and of course I could be wrong) as saying that talk of blame, guilt, or reprisal for anyone in the discussion wouldn’t lead to constructive conversations (and I agree with that).”

        Then maybe Ms. Ifill should amend or clarify her statement. However, I must say that I find it hard to believe that a journalist of Ms. Ifill’s caliber could have difficulty explaining exactly what she means. I took her statement that blame, guilt, and reprisal should be taken off the table to mean that it is her opinion that blame, guilt, and reprisal should not enter the conversation period. Without America seeing how it is to blame and that it should be taking responsibility for that which has been done, and done in the name of America and for the protection of the dominant community’s way of life, against the black community, then what’s the point of any conversation? America doesn’t need psychotherapy. America needs to clean up the mess in the black community. If Ms. Ifill had a problem with assigning blame to an individual, I would imagine Ms. Ifill would say as much. I prefer to take her at her word instead of trying to read more or less into what she may have meant to say.

        Peace

        Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Tuesday, July 13, 2010

      • “I took her statement that blame, guilt, and reprisal should be taken off the table to mean that it is her opinion that blame, guilt, and reprisal should not enter the conversation period.”

        It’s possible that the difference lies in how these words are used.

        Ifill, like many people, may apply words like blame or guilt to individuals, and not to nations or societies. In other words, she might fully endorse the idea of identifying the historical and contemporary causes of racism and injustice, including the role of the nation and society. She might just frame that in terms of what the U.S. has done, or the impact of social norms and institutions, without thinking to say that the nation is to “blame” or that society is “guilty.”

        Likewise, I take “reprisal” to be a word calling for retribution, and I wouldn’t use it in connection with calls for justice and repair. I would call for taking “reprisal” off the table, while keeping responsibility and repair on the table.

        Comment by James | Tuesday, July 13, 2010

      • James,

        “Ifill, like many people, may apply words like blame or guilt to individuals, and not to nations or societies.”

        I do know that many Americans thought Toyota was guilty of negligence in building cars with sticky accelerators. I know a lot of individuals blame British Petroleum for the oil spewing into the gulf. I seriously doubt if Ms. Ifill is having such a problem with the association of such words as “guilt” and “blame” with entities other than individuals.

        Again, not to belabor the point but to make sure I make myself clear, I find it difficult that a journalist of Ms. Ifill’s reputation has difficulty getting her meaning across. When it comes to journalism, she is held in a regard that escapes many Americans. As a high profile journalist, I cannot simply give Ms. Ifill the benefit of doubt based on what many Americans may do. Such a generous yardstick might suffice for others. But as a celebrity giving book signing tours, Ms. Ifill’s words carry a great deal of weight, possibly as much as many of our politicians. Some might feel that she is saying something unclear or something that the many would say because we only associate words like “guilt” and “blame” with individuals. Politicians like to use such excuses with the cliche that their words were being taken out of context.

        Ms. Ifill may have meant something else. But the converse is a possibility as well. Ms. Ifill meant exactly what she said. Many Americans aren’t the type of people who are out giving a book signing tour in order to promote their book on the subject of race relations. She didn’t just start this tour yesterday and so has to work some of the kinks out of her message. For this book alone, she is a veteran of many months. She is speaking as somewhat of an authority on the subject of race relations. This isn’t some casual mistake that most Americans might make because they don’t normally use the words “guilt” and “blame” to anything but other individuals. I do believe Ms. Ifill is stating her position quite clearly.

        Peace

        Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Tuesday, July 13, 2010

      • “I do know that many Americans thought Toyota was guilty of negligence in building cars with sticky accelerators.”

        Negligence is a legal term connoting individual or corporate responsibility, so I’m not surprised by that.

        “As a high profile journalist, I cannot simply give Ms. Ifill the benefit of doubt based on what many Americans may do.”

        That’s fair, I suppose. I, on the other hand, will not read one meaning into her words rather than another, insofar as her words could easily mean one thing or the other. In particular, I refuse to read into her words an intention to do something which makes no sense to you or me, and which seems to clash with her broader views, if the words could just as easily mean something that I think is eminently reasonable.

        As someone who has appeared in public many times on this topic, I do choose my words carefully and have experience at thinking through their implications. But this doesn’t mean, even remotely, that I always choose the right words–much less that my words can’t sometimes mean two different things, and thus be misinterpreted! 🙂

        Comment by James | Tuesday, July 13, 2010

      • James,

        “As someone who has appeared in public many times on this topic, I do choose my words carefully and have experience at thinking through their implications. But this doesn’t mean, even remotely, that I always choose the right words…”

        If we were discussing what you meant by a one time comment off the top of your head then I think people would be more understanding, more forgiving if you were to come back and try to explain your position. If you have experience and have learned to chose your words carefully then I think it would be fair to say that Ms. Ifill has the same or, more likely, much more experience with the same subject. Like I said before, if Ms. Ifill started this tour yesterday and this was one of the first stops then I might be a little more willing to wait for her to explain her position in more detail. But this visit is coming at the end of her tour. Now that she has the majority of her schedule out of the way, she can go back and make up for the missed dates. At the end of her tour, she is still espousing that the conversation about race must be done without guilt, blame, or reprisal. Period! I’m sure Ms. Ifill’s words are not right. But her words appear to be a reflection of her thinking.

        Peace

        Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Tuesday, July 13, 2010

  4. I read her book some time ago and enjoyed it; one common theme was “sandpaper politics”.

    I’d like to see what you think of her book when you’ve finished.

    Comment by blueollie | Tuesday, July 13, 2010 | Reply

  5. […] One talks about meeting Gwen Ifill at a book signing (I talk about her book here) This reminds me that our outlooks are shaped by our own life’s experiences, no matter how aware and empathetic we attempt to be. […]

    Pingback by 13 July 2010 posts « blueollie | Tuesday, July 13, 2010 | Reply


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