Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Are we having the often-called-for "national conversation on race" yet?

John McWhorter looks at the recent evidence -- the Gates/Crowley incident, Obama's NAACP speech, the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, the Ricci case -- and says yes.

Of course, many people are going to keep repeating that we need to have a national conversation on race. What's going on?

McWhorter explains:

The people itching whenever blacks are reminded that they are masters of their fate--i.e. that they are human--do not set the terms of The Conversation in 2009 and never will again. They are, today, a powerless minority, overrepresented among academics and writers and good for TV hits, but out of step with how the largest number of black people think. A black professor I will not name tried putting over the “you are powerless victims” message on a mostly black bookstore audience a few years ago and met so much resistance things almost got ugly. ...

If it were to come out the way the naysayers want it to--and think about how odd and tragic it is that so many want the situation to be worse than it is--then the New Haven firefighters’ test would include questions about whether Bordeaux is a kind of Sauvignon Blanc, Sonia Sotomayor would have been asked why she thought a Latina was qualified to sit on the Supreme Court at all, Obama’s NAACP speech would have made a joke about welfare queens, and Gates would have been stopped in his car and pulled out and slammed against a wall for asking why.

Only in that America would we need to have a Conversation on Race different from the one we are having. That one acknowledges something the professional Cassandras, despite their keen minds and extensive educations, cannot: progress that is incomplete, yet so vast that the lenses of the old days are no longer of use.