Thursday, January 31, 2008

Powerful 'Talk' about race in America

I've been listening to NPR's "Talk of the Nation" for years now, but today's discussion totally blew me away. Host Neil Conan went to Morgan State University in Baltimore for "Barack Obama and the African-American Vote," a conversation about the intersection of race and politics.

Whether you follow politics or not, the program was an insightful conversation about race on many levels: civil rights movement followers vs. the hip-hop generation; the definition of what is "black enough"; the question of if we as a culture will ever move past race being an issue in America and more.

But by focusing on Sen. Barack Obama, issues of race were brought into stark relief. The conversation seemed to be almost cathartic as comments I had only heard among other blacks were out for all to hear. There was talk of people who remember the civil rights era and are convinced that no black man will ever be president in their lifetime. Talk of being called a "race traitor" if you're black and vote for someone other than the black candidate. Talk of believing Obama is arrogant and "uppity" because he went to a prestigious school and hasn't "paid his dues" like the black leaders who came before him. Fears of voting for Obama, because to support him might make him too viable a candidate and get him assassinated.

The conversation was punctuated by eloquent comments from the guest panel, audience members and folks who called in. My eyes welled with tears as one caller recounted his memory of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, and his wish that no one ever go through that again. It was powerful stuff. If you've ever been curious about what blacks think about race relations today, or you've ever wondered if you're alone in how you feel during this historic presidential race, I think you would really enjoy this program.

Click here if you want to listen to and read more about the "Talk of the Nation" episode; you can also download a free podcast from iTunes.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for writing about TOTN's show today......I read it with great interest b/c I happened to hear a big chunk of it while driving today & wished I'd heard it all; glad to be reminded that it can be re-heard on-line anytime you want 24-7, which I'll probably do.

This is truly an exciting election to follow, day by day & week by week. Without going into a long diatribe, suffice to say just the realization alone that the last eight disastrous years are finally almost over, is reason enough to be excited. As one who's likely to vote for whichever Democrat's nominated, I'm thrilled to see that we have an African-American and a woman as viable candidates and would've been happy with either one. I believe America's ready (or overdue) for either. It was interesting on TOTN to hear the discussions of which identifier seems more important (gender or race). Being both male & white, I can only guess how much, or if, I'd otherwise factor that into my choice in the voting booth. It was interesting to hear the various issues and assumptions brought up (like, if you're black, you might feel like you're "supposed to" support Obama, etc., etc.).

All this discourse by Americans of how we struggle with lingering racial issues can only be good. But then I think (as one or more people on the program said), shouldn't the whole thing be instead about a man who's highly-qualified, who incidentally happens to be black? I like what one woman said: He's the perfect example of how any mother wishes for her son to turn out. For me that puts the nail on the head. While I was uncommited between Barak or Hillary, I must say I'm leaning a lot more toward Obama lately; part of it is I fear that if we don't seize the opportunity now of electing someone who's the perfect choice (I believe) be a uniter rather than a divider, there's no telling when that chance will ever come along again.

As an aside, did you notice Neil introducing a caller from "Charleston, North Carolina"? Instead of apologizing, he laughed it off as if NC and SC are interchangeable. The caller hesitated but you could tell he graciously decided to not make an issue of the error......does it bug you as it does me when folks far away think of the millions of us us living in both states as if it's all just "Carolina"?

ashley said...

Looking forward to listening to the discussion... and I'm looking forward to the day when being black/white is no more an issue than having brown/blonde hair (talk to an 80-year-old European about that one)!

On the other note, I was born and raised in NC, and we all have state pride (after all, we live in the best of the 50) and would never want to be confused with SC (somewhere in the top 10, but it's no NC). Funny thing, other parts of the country have no state pride...

Anonymous said...

I think the threat of assassination is biggest for those who threaten the establishment in power--and Obama will not be that threat. If you believe that Martin Luther King Jr. was killed only because he was black, I beg to differ. Governments around the world want to keep "the people" down under their thumb and control--and that's people of all races, not just minorities. Look at China, North Korea, Russia, Pakistan and the murder of Bhutto.

King Jr. stood up for the rights of the disenfranchised and oppressed, and I believe that's why he was killed.

I personally find Obama to be a magnetic personality, but he doesn't question the powerful elite. He just wants to join them. I am sick of this. I will support the candidate who stands up for the individual rights of all Americans with integrity and intelligence.

Do you really want to talk about discrimination? There is such a media blackout on Ron Paul and his message of giving us freedom and dismantling the military industrial complex (where Hillary and the neo-cons get lots of nice financial support) that thinking Americans have to wonder, what it is they're afraid all of us will hear?

All you need to see is that when the Democrats took the stage after a Republican debate in December, they all acted buddy buddy with each other but AVOIDED Ron Paul. (Yes, Obama shunned him as well.) They can't buy him or bribe him, so they ignore him.

The two-party system is a farce.

Anonymous said...

The truly sad part is that there is so little difference between victim and oppressor. When I hear the comments of some African Americans about how no black man will be elected President, or fears of a viable candidate being assasinated, I hear the same fear, mistrust and yes, hatred, that I hear when bigots speak.

I remember Colin Powell and Condi Rice being called "Uncle Tom" and "house slave" by black's who didn't accept them because they served a Republican administration.

Democrats can't have a real debate because if you question Hillary they call you sexist and if you question Obama they call you racist!

Just look at the Mackey issue here in Charlotte. Why is this considered a racial issue? Let's be honest, if this had been two white candidates, do you truly think Mackey would have the support he has, given both his own background and secretive behavior and the clear fact that there was something fishy about the way the precints were organized?

Look at Micheal Vick... even HE admitted his own guilt and STILL he was being defended by the black community as if he was a victim!

You had a New England university that had a mandatory class that specifically taught that all white people were racist, that only white people could be racist and that reverse discrimination is a myth perpetuated by whites to keep blacks down! That type of ignorance was the hallmark of the KKK.

Many years ago, it was white people keeping blacks down... now they do it to themselves by refusing to discuss the merits and facts and playing the race card instead.


Anonymous said...

If anyone judges any candidate based only on the color of their skin or their gender, they are limiting themselves in scope of thought and limiting their choices.

I agree with the last poster: I can't say I wouldn't vote for Hillary or Obama without being called closed-minded or a racist. And yes, when Condi Rice and Colin Powell supported a Republican administration, how they were criticized by many African Americans. I say, what a fantastic step forward for the black community, to see these individuals ascend within our government with their drive, patriotism and keen intelligence on display for all to witness.

We ALL must be allowed the right to pursue our individual values and passions without fear of being labeled a traitor or worse. Life is made of shades of gray, and nothing is simply black or white.

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ with Anonymous 1:27. I think we keep each other down. Opression is more than a black and white issue. Look at all the blame placed on Hispanics for taking lower-wage jobs etc. This was a hot topic during the Democratic Debate last night. When I read your comments, you just perpetuated the issue. We are all lumped together. To be a person is more than to be black or white, male or female, rich or poor. We represent our families, morals, educational backgrounds, religions, values, careers etc. Racisim and bigotry is alive in every culture, race and ethnicity. It is an unfortunate fact of life. What we must move past is making decisions based on race or sex. We have to make the decisions that are based on what know to be the best for ourselves and families, present and future.

All the various isms are alive and well everywhere. What we must do as a people is not play into them. To get past them and resign to never be a victim.

Anonymous said...

What struck me about the NPR program was the differences in attitude I heard between older and younger African Americans on the show. The older speakers seemed to be looking towards the past and wanting to judge today's issues on that; at least one speaker supported reparations. Many of the younger speakers had just the opposite attitude--they spoke with excitement about their futures; they seemed to feel anything was possible as long as they made the effort to succeed; they did not feel burdened by the past.
I would be curious to know what age group was most numerous at the Al Sharpton rally here in Charlotte. I suspect that the audience was predominately "old guard". I would be surprised if many of the young educated African Americans in our community buy into Sharpton's message.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:43, how did I perpetuate the issue that we keep each other down?

I already said that this race isn't just about someone being black--I said it's about the establishment being threatened. The establishment WANTS to box us off (the Hispanic vote in CA, the black vote in SC, independents, women, evangelicals, blah blah blah). Then we can spend all our energy fighting for the spoils while the uber-elite (and I'm talking about government and financial leaders in the world, not rich folks in general) sit back and laugh and manipulate us some more.

Don't box me into a category! I'm not voting to support your welfare, I'm voting to support MY rights and values. But many people in this country appear to love to take sides and be labeled as part of a larger group. The democratic party wouldn't survive if minorities didn't organize into groups like this to support their agenda. And the neo-cons wouldn't survive without the corporate special interests supporting them.

In the end, I think many goups of well-meaning people are being marginalized. A sort of group-speak in tied in to the package, and if you express your own (different) opinion contrary to the group, you are labeled very negatively. As an individualist, I will never allow a group to speak for me, personally.

In the end, I just want to say that I agree with you (especially the "don't be a victim" part).

I also agree with the last poster, that there does seem to be a divide between the African-American generations. I think it's imperative to learn from history but to approach the future with HOPE. If I focus on the bad things that have happened to me in my past, I cannot move forward and find joy.

Anonymous said...

When the lights are out, it doesn't matter what color it is.

Can you relate?