Race: In America, that’s a loaded word. Mention it in “mixed” company, and conversation is likely to become strained. Not as incendiary as the N-word, but we can’t say we are comfortable with the notion of race.
When Senator Obama was elected president in November 2008, many heralded the dawn of “post racial” America. After all,America, with its painful history of racism, had just overwhelmingly elected its first black/mixed-race president. Yet, just a few months earlier in March, the presidential candidate had to defend himself, his heritage, and his right to run for president in the wake of the vitriolic criticism from some quarters about his association with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, a somewhat controversial pastor at the church the Obamas then attended:
I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. . . . I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners—an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
In the five years since that speech, the dirty laundry ofAmerica’s not-so-hidden racism has been aired forAmerica, and all the world to see. If we so naïve to believe that we had moved beyond the dark legacy of “if you’re white, you’re alright. . . if you’re black, stay back”, we surely have been rudely reminded that in America, race, or at least our concepts and decisions about race, underlie everything.
Uncomfortable though it may be, race, and all it implies, is a conversation we need to keep having. We can't change what we don't acknowledge, and if we want to achieve that "perfect union", we might just need to get a longer clothesline and start washing.