Thursday, February 19, 2009

Being "Essentially a Nation of Cowards"

Some are bashing Attorney General Holder for his words that when it came to "thing racial" that America is "essentially a nation of cowards."

Attorney General 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."

After the speech the Attorney General told reporters:

"If we're going to ever make progress, we're going to have to have the guts, we have to have the determination, to be honest with each other. It also means we have to be able to accept criticism where that is justified."

I understand the provocative nature of some of these words. They were obviously meant to be. But what about them really? How comfortable are we in talking about issues of race? Even though my personal pool of friends since childhood included both black and white and we discussed everything--including race, I understand Attorney General Holder's words. If we are honest with ourselves, I wonder if there can be greater understanding.

The church that I grew up in that my uncle pastored had 10,000+ congregants of whom a few were white. There was not a lot of communication with others there. My great grandfather had a church in the early 19th century of 1,500 people of whom half were white. Surprisingly, his congregants were incredibly open with each other. It became less so some years later.

My great grandfather also formed a religious organization worldwide with thousands in attendance half were white until it became too uncomfortable to meet and discuss pertinent issues of race. In some respects writings reached where his image could not. (But I must also say that he did a great many things that included people of all races and was accepted by many.)

Yes, we work with each other. But do we eat with each other? Do we worship with each other? Do we have intimate conversations with each other? Do we love each other equally? Are we members of the same country clubs? Do we join each others sororities and fraternities?

Let's be real. We have indeed come a long way on many fronts, but in considering the things above, are we "essentially a nation of cowards?" Progress requires intimacy and honesty. Are you willing? I am.


CJ said...

I would hate to think that race will continue to be that 900 pound gorilla in the room...Call me naive but part of me likes to think that that gorilla died the night of November 4, 2008.

I really get the feeling that I am wrong. Based on the way I've seen Mr. Obama treated by Republicans and some fellow Democrats--I would like to see their voting against him as an honest disagreement based on ideas rather than a desire to undermine him that is characterised by racist overtones.

judith ellis said...

CJ - I hear you. I, for one, did not mean to infer in the very least that Republicans or Democrats voted against the President on the bases of race. To be honest I never even thought of that. I don't think race had anything to do with how the vote went down. It seemed more ideological and power motivated to me, as in the upcoming races of 2010 and 2012.

The election of Barack Obama was a great thing. I think many Americans saw him for just who seems to be, a thoughtful intelligent sincere public servant. But there are many reasons we make decisions and often they are not based on one thing alone. I would also venture to say that Americans saw him as better equipped to handle the economy in this financial crisis where their personal finances have been dwindling rapidly.

Finances often trump race. Love does too.

This post was essentially meant to ask the more intimate questions of conversation and personal trust. (This seemed to be where the Attorney General was in part referring to.) We do not necessarily desire or need to have direct personal conversations with our elected officals. But in order to make better decisions regarding a whole host of things, including education and health care in our communities, we need to have more intimate discussions with our neighbors, any persons who are near us.

By the way, I do not think that the 900 pound gorilla that you spoke of is dead. It most certainly is not. But it can be acknowledged and moved beyond. We are one race, the human race. When we think of the diversity of the world the whole discussion of race, as we know it in the US and even in other places in the world-- including Africa, it seems pretty nil. But there remain intimacies to share and conversations to be had.