America: still talking about race

Joseph Phillips Contributor
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According to the website CNN.com, some of the criticism of first lady Michelle Obama is driven by partisan politics. However, “others say the attacks are rooted in white resentment of the ‘uppity Negro.’”  Two things quickly come to mind.  The first is that no one other than Harry Reid uses the word “Negro” anymore.  Second, that it is the 21st century and yet there are those who continue to talk about race as if it were 1955.

Last February, in a speech to honor Black History Month, Attorney General Eric Holder remarked that Americans of all colors should stop avoiding an honest discussion of race in America.  Said Holder: “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

I disagreed with Holder at the time and still do.  Americans are not cowards when it comes to discussions of race, neither are they dishonest. Rather, I believe Americans are simply bone-tired.

The American conversation on race began more than two centuries ago and frankly, we have talked of little else.  The topic permeated the discussions during the drafting of both our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution and continues today, with a black man sitting in the White House.

Not cowards, just exhausted and so very, very eager to move on!

This was the great “hope” for Barack Obama.  The great tide that swept Barack Obama into the White House was not the hope of a hard-left social and economic agenda.  Americans were eager to move on to a new and more uplifting conversation about their nation and their lives as citizens.  And one of the things they wanted to change was the conversation on race.

In fairness, changing America’s racial conversation may have been a bit too much to ask of one man.  Although for a man who promised that his nomination as a candidate for president would be remembered as the moment the planet would heal and the oceans would calm, such expectations were perhaps not so outrageous.  Nevertheless — his ability or inability to calm the tides notwithstanding — he is only human.

And early on, there were signs that it was all too good to be true.

There was the revelation of his 20-year association with the reverend Jeremiah Wright, pastor of the universal church of “get back whitey.”  This eye-opener was followed by several editorials introducing voters to the new “racial code.”  We discovered, for instance, that talking about Obama’s elitism was code for saying he was “uppity” and to point out his inexperience was to call him a “boy.”  Alas, this was all a harbinger of what was to come.

This administration has attempted to marginalize its opponents by labeling them as racists; movements have been slandered with charges of racism, and principled disagreement is suddenly seen as evidence of bigotry.  It all seems a bit surreal.  As a nation, we seem to be talking about race now, more than we have in a very long time.  As far as leading this nation into a post-racial era, the election of Barack Obama can only be seen as a bust.

But perhaps I have misread the tea leaves.  It may be that what we are witnessing is race- as-we-have-come-to-know-it in its death throes.  We might also be seeing first-hand the birth of a new paradigm of race in America — one that will carry us into the next generation.

This past March, in a deliberate attempt to provoke a racial incident, members of the Congressional Black Caucus marched through a large crowd of angry, mostly white, ObamaCare protestors.  But the trick failed.  The fire hoses didn’t appear; neither did the attack dogs, or the white racists shouting the N-word.  Sure, the left claimed it happened — that these noble black heroes were spat upon and called ugly names as in days gone by — but the lie failed to gain traction.

Representatives Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters have claimed that race is behind investigations into their behavior, as opposed to the possibility that they have been unethical and dishonest.  There was a time when such charges would have been greeted with seriousness as opposed to the snickering these recent protests have garnered.

The new left media is hard at work attempting to prove racial animus.  Increasingly, however, their charges seem to read like a laundry-list of falsehoods and rather mundane annoyance: scrutiny of the first lady, for instance.

It would be difficult for Americans to witness the cynical, dishonest, and hollow way in which race has been at issue over the last two years and not sense that something is afoot.  Indeed, it may be that this nation is moving in a new direction on race.  Sure, there will continue to be those who cling to the outdated view of black-white relationships, but increasingly they must be seen as out-of-step with the times. If true, it is both reason to celebrate and reason to shake Mr. Obama’s hand.

Joseph is perhaps best known for the role of Lt. Martin Kendall, Lisa Bonet’s husband, on the hit series The Cosby Show. He was also a three time NAACP Image Award Nominee for his portrayal of Attorney Justus Ward on the Daytime Drama General Hospital. For two seasons he appeared as Mayor Morgan Douglas on the CBS series The District, recurred as Marcus Johnson on the hit CBS series Without A Trace and most recently appeared as JT Morse on the Fox Series, Vanished. Mr. Phillips is also a syndicated columnist. His column “The Way I see It” appears weekly in more than 30 publications across the country