Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why don't they have an honest discussion about racism?

All too frequently when racism is covered in the news, the coverage is in reaction to a verbal gaffe of a prominent figure without exploring the context of that person's attitude, personal history, etcetera ... example given, the incessant coverage of Harry Reid.

Rather than admitting that racist attitudes are still widely prevalent in U.S. culture and, that as a result, racism is also still prevalent in social institutions, media, the corporate ladder, and so on, the pundit makes an example out of the individual for poor choice of words and moves on to the next story without having an honest discussion about racism.

A "debate on race?" Why phrase in terms of competition? A discussion would be helpful. This rather narrow approach to discussing race lets instututional racism off the hook by focusing on individual racism. This approach also allows those who deny any prejudice in their own personal attitudes to point out the obvious racist while enjoying a free pass, and eventually the media narrative wanes and the media consumer moves on to the next story without much discussion actually. Someone losing his or her job over racial insensitivity seems to settle the matter finally.

This collective amnesia is how someone such as Pat Buchanan can call out racism on Harry Reid without being called out on his own past racist remarks. This is how hypocrisy flourishes in any discussion of racism. If only addressing racism was a matter of deciding what terms are acceptable for discussing race. That's an important first step, but the conversation never seems to go much further (at least on television).

I don't think most people who voted for Obama voted for him because they believed that they would wake up the day after his inauguration in a post-racial society. Obviously racism still exists and will continue to exist until addressed with real conversation.

Institutional racism usually comes to the foreground with questions such as why when the economy tanks is it usually minorities who are most effected, why does law enforcement continue to incarcerate a higher percentage of brown and black persons, why are foreign nationals dehumanized and abused by government officials, and why are soldiers brainwashed into an "us" vs. "them" mentality that translates into beliefs of cultural, religious or racial superiority.

Rachel Maddow perhaps had the best coverage of racism on a mainstream media outlet today.

If the media is going to have an honest discussion about racism it needs to be talking about more than word choice.

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