July 23, 2010 by jamesessj
We’re never going to get beyond race in this country. Or, at least, it’ll be a very, very long while. The brouhaha in recent days about Shirley Sherrod and the NAACP and Fox News and the White House has brought this home yet again: we’re never going to get beyond race.
Because no one really wants to, for all that they say they do. Let’s take, for one example, the president. Would he ever have been elected if he weren’t black? A one-term Senator from Illinois with zero record of accomplishment? By objective accounting the most liberal member of the Senate? Of course this is what-if territory, but let’s not kid ourselves: there’s no way in hell a white version of Barack Obama would have done any better than, say, the white version of Barack Obama: Dennis Kucinich.
I know of many Republicans who voted for Obama for no reason other than his race. The historicity of the endeavor enthralled them: we can elect a black president. This is racism, pure and simple, albeit of a seemingly benevolent kind. This is judging a man not by the content of his character, but by the color of his skin. And I do not excuse Democrats from this condescending attitude, either; one need only look at the way Hilary Clinton was treated, as Obama’s opponent in the primaries, to realize that Democrats were desperate to vote for the black candidate, despite an obvious, and what would ordinarily have been crippling, lack of experience.
In short: Is Obama not the ultimate affirmative action hire?
I grew up in Africa. I love that continent, blighted and mismanaged though it may eternally be. I am mindful of the line from David Mamet’s most recent play, Race: “I know there is nothing a white person can say to a black person about race which is not both incorrect and offensive.” Mindful, but not heedful: if one buys into Mamet’s logic to even the slightest degree, then one has given up the racial ghost and conceded a major (I’d argue the only) point of the debate — i.e., white folks can’t understand black folks.
On a metaphysical level, this is indisputably true: no human can ever truly know another human. But we’re not talking metaphysics, we’re talking pragmatic human interaction — and if it’s not possible for a white person to understand a black person, then it’s not possible for a black person to understand an Asian person, nor an Asian person a Latino person, nor a Latino person a Native American person. No one’s more or less special, or aggrieved, than anyone else.
We’re all human beings. Stupid, dumb, foolish, idiotic, wonderful human beings. The question isn’t, Can’t we all just get along? The question is, Why aren’t we getting along?
The answer is, Because no one wants to.