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Posts Tagged ‘Eric Holder’

May I vent for a moment?

For me, the saddest thing about the Henry Louis Gates incident is that we’re no better off now as a nation than before it happened. Like President Obama, I’d hoped it would become a “teachable moment,” a chance to learn from each other’s experiences and understand both the pressures felt by well-meaning police officers and the pain and indignity felt by African American men in these types of encounters. But even Obama hasn’t been able to finesse the national conversation in a way to get us all on the same page—or least in the same ream of paper.

Those who say Professor Gates was completely wrongheaded and unreasonable aren’t willing to take seriously the history (both distant and recent) that has defined the relationship between African American men and law enforcement. And those who say Officer James Crowley was just a racist, rogue cop are not willing to take seriously this man’s totality of experiences as both a public servant and a human being.

The bottom line: As Eric Holder suggested some months ago, we’re a nation afraid (or simply unwilling) to put in the kind of concerted effort required to truly understand each other across racial lines. I understand that many of us are weary of having to either defend against knee-jerk accusations of racism or educate our fellow citizens on its daily realities. But until we resolve to lay aside our anger, distrust, and cynicism and love our neighbor as Christ commands, nothing is going to change.

Okay, I’m done. I’ll probably read this later and regret hitting publish, but just had to get that out.

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So how about that New York Post chimpanzee cartoon? There’s plenty of insightful commentary lighting up the blogosphere on it today. But, in my usual self-serving manner, I’ll point you to the current post at UrbanFaith.com (with an assist from Sojo.net) for a nice overview/perspective piece on the controversy.

The debate over whether the cartoon was just boneheaded insensitivity or blatant racism is something that will continue as long as there’s such a thing as monocultural editorial teams (wasn’t there anyone in that NY Post newsroom to raise a caution flag?) and monophonic civil rights activitsts (Al Sharpton leads the charge again). But, as a journalist, one of the most interesting aspects of the controversy for me is the ethical questions it raises for the media and other communication leaders. For an exploration of that dimension, I think Steve Myers and Mallary Tenore’s report at Poynter Online is excellent. In it, Ted Rall, president of the Association of American Cartoonists, won’t label the chimp cartoon as racist, but he does call it a “misfire.” From the article:

The flap over this cartoon does illustrate the difficulty editorial cartoonists, who are generally white men in their 50s, have in dealing with race, Rall said. As for African-American cartoonists, “as far as I know, there’s only one or two working in the entire country.”

If you’re like me, you’re probably weary of this type of thing. It seems every couple months there’s a new brouhaha, whether it’s Obama Waffles or LeBron James on the cover of Vogue.

From my perspective, the question should be: Will we use these incidents to start constructive conversations about race, culture, and understanding (the kind I believe Attorney General Eric Holder was attempting to get at yesterday), or will we use them as justification for our hostility and as vehicles for our continued separation?

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Wow! Some strong words today about race relations in America from Eric Holder, our new attorney general. In a speech to Justice Department employees commemorating Black History Month, Holder said the workplace is largely integrated but Americans still self-segregate in their private lives.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” said Holder, who is our first black attorney general. Race issues continue to be a topic of political discussion, he added, but “we, as average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.”

More from Holder’s speech:

As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by “American instinct” and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one’s character. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.

You can find Holder’s complete speech here. Pretty bold statements for someone who has only been in his job a few weeks. I tend to agree with him. In fact, some of his comments read like things I’ve been saying during my talks at churches, Christian colleges, and conferences. I hope Holder and others in the new administration are able to help America talk about these issues in a more honest and forthright way.

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