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Are We Really a Nation of Cowards on the Issue of Race?

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Message Herbert Calhoun
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Since the dawn of the enlightenment, "Racial European Man"- has finally lost the battle he has been waging fiercely against himself and his own inner demons.  It has been a long, empty, spiritless, anti-human quest for an inchoate, ephemeral and ultimately unattainable notion of tribal superiority through racial purity, as that notion is best expressed through the still dominate "European male hero system." The mopping-up operations have already begun.

From the start, this centerpiece of Western cultural history, has been little more than a stunted, "brass fronted"- impudent emperor without a suit. Yet, in all it's puffed up glory, in all its embarrassing biological, genetic and tribal totems and regalia, it has been allowed for the better part of the last millennium to reign supreme over the Western historical landscape, as the sole repository of social, economic and political orthodoxy. Perched as a super-ordinate meta-theory arrogantly at the summit of this unfolding Western drama, racism, since the enslavement of blacks has served as the most important, most destructive, most narcissistic and yet, the most carefully protected of all white values.

It alone has been the self-reflective ideological and spiritual vehicle that has given expression to the illicit and immoral gains that only a system shielded by collective immorality can allow to go on for centuries. In short, racism, as invented by, and best practiced by, European white men, has succeeded in completely dehumanizing almost all peoples of color. That--that dehumanization process has been ongoing--continues in its cumulative way even today, practically unabated, and is all but irreversible in its consequences--is a fact too terrible for the American mind to contemplate or embrace let alone take ownership of.   

Turning away from this terrible terrifying historical truth is "the way of the coward."- Turning away from America's terrible truth is the basis of the cowardliness that Eric Holder has spoken of. This, the long historical trail of tears, is the backdrop of Eric Holder's reference to American cowardliness on race.

With Obama's election, collectively we have now reached a turning point in this "behind the scenes racial and tribal dance."- Race, can no longer continue to be swept under the proverbial national rug. The time for the final squaring of both moral and substantive accounts between mature adults has come. We have reached the point where we all must stand up and be counted on the issue of race: There is no more room for "slipping and sliding,"- no more "bobbing and weaving and ducking"- the issue; no more "slipping punches and clinching;"- no more crying foul; no more cover-ups through symbolic side payoffs, no more tokenism, no more sleights of mind, hand and foot; no more head fakes with exaggerated reports of racial progress, and no more substituting symbolism for substance; in short, no more dissembling on the issue of race.  The cowards have been singled out an identified. So together lets go forward and confront this demon together.

The final reports are all now in, and except for tokens like Obama and Holder, they all look very bad for black people. There are only massive cross-generational deficits on the black side of the ledger, and only a retaining of the racial status quo and all of the ill-gotten gains on the white side of the ledger. The very structures upon which black cultural survival depends have been carefully dismantled, cut-off at the knees and left for dead on the side of the road, while at the same time, the cross-generational illicit gains on the white side, remain intact and all but unmolested. Neither is to be spoken of ever again in polite society.

Let us be clear about what Holder's comments meant in the context of an existing almost permanently racially bifurcated American society. His comment occurred at the point where "the rubber truly meets the road;"- at the point of the settling up of racial accounts in American society. It is at this important juncture, where there is a black family staring back out at us from the White House window that Eric Holder's description of cowardliness comes into play. Holder is simply saying: how can the issue of race be ignored when there is a black family in the White House? How can we as a nation continue to fail to address the issue of race when "the behind the scenes dance on race"- is now out in the open? How can the issue keep being denied a secure spot on the agenda of the American national conversation when President Obama's two young beautiful daughters are playing on the White House lawn?

Cowardliness is just the term Holder used to remind America that blacks are well aware that "racial spin and symbolism"- has run its course. It has stood in for actual "racial dialogue,"- for meager racial progress much too long and has become the rule rather than the exception now for more years than any of us care to remember.

Remember what happened, when Bill Clinton tried to have a "National dialogue on race?"- He had to throw up his hands, throw in the towel, and "table"- the issue until some unknown future date that even today yet has come to pass. Thus, cowardliness on the issue of race has not just been in the background of American politics but has become a part of the American cultural DNA. Now with Mr. Obama's election, the issue of race reemerges "front and center"- in an avoidable way: with a black family commuting from Chicago, one of the most racist cities in America; to Washington D.C., one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. We no longer need to go to Mississippi to find rampant racism.

What Holder said may have surprised whites, but to us blacks, it was the most ordinary and natural thing for a black man to say. Even though he is probably doing well himself, Eric Holder knows, like the rest of us, that black America is not the Bill Cosby Show. He knows that we cannot continue to confuse a coldblooded embarrassing reality where there has been a complete social breakdown in the African American family with TV style fantasy.  And thus my hat goes off to Holder for stating the obvious.

Holder is no "Uncle Clarence,"- or "Aunt Condoleeza."- He is a fully engaged and fully functioning, aware and authentically observing human being, with an independent voice, who just happens to be black. But as is usual for the American dialogue on race, most of the furor has been focused on attacking Holder's "words,"- not about focusing on the gap between American ideals and American practice that those words called into question. No, the furor has not been about the substantive issues that Holder obviously had in mind in naming Americans as the cowards we are when it comes to dodging issue of race, it was about keeping the lid on this potentially incendiary issue; it was an excoriation of Holder for "airing America's dirty racial linen."-

For the average American (both white and black), the first rule of American racial etiquette, is that racial progress can be allowed only up to the point at which it begins to impinge upon white racial prerogatives. Or said another way, at the point at which it begins to inconvenience long-standing white racial social arrangements. The second rule of American racial etiquette is that racism is not to be talked about in polite conversation, except in coded or otherwise sanctioned ways. This language etiquette has become a silent part of the American patriotic code "to let the racial sleeping dog lie"- and not to raise from the dead the ghost of racism: Better to pretend that "except for blacks being their own worse enemies,"- that there is no race problem in America.  However, since this self-enforcing etiquette ignores both the damage done to its victims, and protect whites against further exposure of the worse kept secret of racism (the cumulative cross-generational ill-gotten benefits of four centuries of slavery, and one of Jim Crow and Apartheid -- accrued exclusively to whites) these two rules of etiquette reduce to the very definition of cowardliness. 

So, yes, I agree with Eric Holder, we Americans are a nation of cowards on the issue of race. For we cannot in good conscience face, or come fully to grips with the historic meaning of race and racism in U.S. society in particular, but also in the Western World more generally. Why should it be the case that the word "racism,"- is the most profane and feared word in the American lexicon? The very fact that it is, is itself the best measure of American cowardliness. All Mr. Holder was trying to say is that even with Mr. Obama's election as the First Black President and his (Holder's) own appointment as the first Attorney General, our nation still remains a resolutely closed, all-encompassing race-based ideological and cultural system. America today is as anti-black and as anti-multicultural as a multicultural system can become.

In this post-modern world, the U.S. has become a stiflingly Balkanized racially tense nation and proceeds without embarrassment to trade on its long lists of unmet and unfulfilled ideals and dreams, preferring to continue to pretend that its snail-like incrementalism: the dance of "one step forward and two steps backwards"- towards racial equality, is somehow sufficient to live up to the promises the nation has made to itself.

Is it not cowardliness that forty years later, Dr. King's promissory note still remains unpaid, still goes marked in the "dead letter" file as "insufficient funds?

But there is also a potential for good news in Holder's challenge: It is the realization that there is nothing America cannot accomplish on the issue of race once whites have decided to step up to the plate and commit themselves fully to closing the long-standing gap between our nation's ideals and its everyday practices. This of course will require a new kind of bravery on the part of whites, rather than continuing to cry foul every time they hear the word racism muttered, whites must now begin to listen to blacks rather than to themselves and begin to re-examine their own views on race and begin to detach themselves from their racial comfort zones. It will also require blacks, especially those at the lower end of the economic scale, to begin to clean up their act, begin to pull their weight and also step up to the plate without excuses and join mainstream humanity.

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Herbert Calhoun Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...)
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