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.