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The Illusion Of A Meaningful Conversation About Race

Why the focus on a conversation about race without blame, guilt, or reprisals?  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 conditions 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 the conversation about race instead of making it a precondition for the discussion?  Why don’t we make the repair of the black community a precondition for our race discussion?  Why is only the precondition that clearly is meant to absolve the dominant community of responsibility the only one that people like Gwen Ifill think is worth mentioning?

While it has been argued that a discussion about race conditions is dependent on the avoidance of blame, guilt, or reprisal as a matter of practicality, it should be no surprise that such appeasement is not universally accepted.  Such a precondition is meant to give people in the dominant community cover for its history of segregation against the black community.  It is more a matter 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 we discover that 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 perpetrating that racism and what can be done to change it.

Without thinking so many people will say that this is 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 to minutia in order to help us understand who we are?  Instead, the dominant community will say that we need to have our conversation without the need to truly find out why things are the way they are and therefore develop a half-assed solution that is filled with lots of rhetoric and little substance like black people need to get an education all the while the schools in the black community are crumbling.  It should be noted that 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 give credence to the argument that things won’t get better until we give up our need to assess why things are the way they are.  Who really 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 are to take an honest analysis of America’s history and see that America itself is to blame, America itself is guilty, then it is that same America that should take responsibility and offer reprisal.

Practically speaking it might 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 honestly not the case, if America is not guilty of any involvement of the black community’s condition, it really shouldn’t matter.  The black community still needs real help.

It has been argued that we need to avoid blame in order to open the dominant community’s mind to be educated of the black community’s condition.  When did education require a precondition about not assigning blame, guilt, or reprisal?  It really is a moot point because the dominant community already knows it is responsible for the black community and, like an alcoholic who is unwilling or not ready to admit there is a problem, America simply doesn’t want to face up to the facts and the consequent lingering effects of its institutionalized racism.  As long as we can make our conversation about race dependent on not assigning blame and not looking for responsibility, we can give the illusion that we want to repair our 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 regardless of preconceived notions.

Long before America’s civil war, long before America’s embrace of Jim Crow and other institutions meant to segregate the black community from America proper, black people were being kept in a perpetually dependent and second class existence?  At these times in our history people didn’t want to talk about who was responsible for the black community then because they were intent on keeping the racial status quo firmly in place.  People don’t want to have that conversation now, at least not honestly, because people are intent on keeping the racial status quo firmly in place.

People will see that some improvement has been made in America’s race relation over the years.  For a lot of people, Barack Obama’s ascension to the highest office in our land is proof that racism is easing its grip on the black community.  It’s getting better without us having a conversation or doing anything else.

But if people feel that nothing needs to be done because it is getting better all on its own then let that be said.  Bring such thinking to our national conversation and put it on the table.  But don’t expect people from the black community who are dealing with unemployment rates twice that of the dominant community or people suffering from an education system that has neglected our black community 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 for some 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 despair now than it was when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law.  I don’t see things getting better for all.  I see things getting better for a select few.  Things will be better when we won’t have a need for a discussion about race or when we have no need to set preconditions on our discussions.  The idea that things are getting better for a few is just another one of those illusion.

Although I do believe it is highly unlikely any time soon or in the next generation, 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 willfully ignore what is happening right before our very eyes.  When we are serious about racial healing we will put the need for preconceived conditions in its proper place.  When did the rules change in America so that the need for justice due to a horrendous act start with a conversation that was free of blame, guilt, or any talk of 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 is a conversation worth having for the sake of our collective future.

Monday, July 12, 2010 - Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black People, Life, Racism, Thoughts


  1. “Why the focus on a conversation about race without blame, guilt, or reprisals?”

    Okay you say America is to blame, for the past transgressions, that began, and have continued to affect the black community here in America. Okay, I’m with you there.

    On the guilt side of things, I think a lot of us in the dominant community, can’t really feel guilty…empathetic maybe. Given that we were born into this society, through no real choice of our own, we adapt to our circumstances and operate as we are taught. Now for those who operate intentionally to stunt the growth, repair and reconciliation with the black community, sure they can be thrown into the guilt pile. While others like me, who have not done so, and would personally like to see a more compatible relationship throughout all communities, I think that empathy is all we can truly offer. We can blame and assign guilt to America as a whole, through its own history for sure, but beyond a blanket statement like that…where do we go down that line in an effort to make progress?

    Now, with respect to reprisal..maybe I’m reading the meaning wrong, but as webster defines the word in his big old book of words, there is nothing but negative connotation to it- An attack intended to inflict injury on another for injury received; retaliation.

    If this is the meaning behind it, I dont think it can ever be part of the conversation, preconceived or otherwise. To take hold as policy behind the conversation on race relations it would merely only serve the likes of idiots in the KKK, Aryan Nation, etc etc, in provoking a more violent society based entirely along racial lines. And not just a coordinated battle, but often times random acts of violence on innocent black children found in the company of whites, hispanics, etc etc. Not to say this doesnt happen all over the place already, but on all sides of the dividing line of race this would most likely increase hundreds-fold or more. It owuld only be counterproductive to look at reprisals in this fashion. Maybe I’m misinterpreting how reprisals is meant?

    Comment by Mike Lovell | Tuesday, July 13, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for the feedback Mike Lovell,

      I just got through discussing this topic with another visitor to my blog by the name of James. This post is a collection of comments I made as a rebuttal to his insistence that the wordsmith and ubber journalist Ms. Ifill simply made a poor choice of words.

      I don’t know of anyone who actually cares about looking for guilt, blame, or reprisal. However, with that said, the word reprisal also means the regaining of something or something given or paid in restitution. You and I have discussed the term restitution before and what form that could take. America could actually make the rebuilding of schools in the black community a priority. Instead, the majority of the schools in my neighborhood appear to be on the verge of collapse. Two years ago, Sumner high school, the school my woman’s teenaged son graduated from just last year, was discovered to have asbestos in its ceilings. According to school officials all it took was a weekend to clean the school up. All they did was covered it up. There was no money in the school’s budget for the proper removal of asbestos. So the problem is solved until another ceiling tile collapses and spreads more asbestos dust around for the kids to inhale.

      But while Sumner is spending money on simply trying to keep its structure intact, just five miles away in schools like the one that hosted Ms. Ifill’s book signing enjoys the benefits of school tax revenue that comes from being in the heart of Ladue, arguably the most exclusive municipality in Missouri. The school is free to spend money on state of the art equipment for their children’s education. And then these students are to meet in the job market and fairly compete for jobs. It is a vicious cycle that is perfectly designed, whether intentionally or not, on keeping the black community in its second class status perpetually.

      Now, if we are to go back to your definition of the word reprisal, I have to ask why anyone would think that people in the black community want the dominant community to suffer the same effects that the black community has. How would that help anything? Would that not create a bigger problem for America to handle sometime in the future? Even though there would be people stupid enough, and small minded enough to wish or dream for such an arrangement, reprisals according to your definition would only lead to more race based problems and segregation.

      If you believe that Ms. Ifill was saying that we should take revenge off the table then by all means I’m down with that. But reprisals meant as restitution to restore the black community should not be avoided simply because somebody has a problem of what the word could mean.

      As far as the guilt and blame goes, I’m sorry but America’s history of institutionalized racism that led to such disproportionately unfair living conditions such as slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and the creation of an environment that allowed black people to be treated with apartheid levels of race based cruelty, America is guilty and is to blame for the conditions of the black community. People might not feel guilty or feel that they are individually responsible. I think the concept of holding individuals personally responsible is an abhorrent one. I believe it is an argument meant to cloud facts and instill a sense of alarm as well as prey upon the fears of people who find any restitution to anybody in the black community repulsive.


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

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