Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Of Divides and Color: 2009 and Beyond

In a commentary piece for The Philadelphia Inquirer last week (Friday, November 6), columnist George Curry uses USA Today/Gallup poll data to paint a bleak picture of America's sense of "race relations." Noting that when Barack Obama was elected president at this time last year, as many as 70% of Americans were "convinced that race relations would improve..." a year later, writes Curry, only about 56% of the country feels hopeful -- the proportion of Americans who felt this way in 1963.

Curry then goes on to examine American opinion about race with respect to the Gates-Crowley "teachable moment" we witnessed this summer. He reports that 30% of African Americans blamed Sgt. Crowley for the incident and only 4% blamed Professor Gates, while 32% of whites blamed Gates and 7% blamed Crowley.

Leaving aside the fact that well over half the country still has hope that racial issues can settle down, and that more than two-thirds of the African and European citizens of this country are not opinionated enough to feel that they know what happened between the professor and the cop, it sure would be nice to see statistics on racial issues that come from bi-racial and mixed race respondents. Or how about American Indians, Pakistanis, Koreans, and Chinese or Vietnamese Americans?

I for one have little hope for journalism and the American media as long as they couch so-called "race related issues" in terms of black vs. white. It is simplistic, divisive, and misses the point completely. This is not a country of two cultural groups. The reality of our situation requires in-depth and thoughtful analysis, something truly lacking in mainstream journalism these days.

Mixed race Americans are not just part black and part white. Some of us are tri-racial; some part Asian and part Hispanic and European and African; some are Japanese and Chinese; some are part Vietnamese, adopted into European American households, and raised by Swedish and Italian nannies. And we have a president who is part African (not African American as the term is generally used) and part European in ancestry. There are also millions of Americans who don't have a clue about their DNA. They think they're "white," "black," "brown," whatever, but they have no proof where they came from.

Is there hope? Can so-called race relations improve in this country? Even with the race bating by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and others; even with the Obama-as-Joker posters, those of us who know how ridiculous the very idea of race is -- those of us who see the proof of the lunacy of skin color as a dividing line -- know that a person who has transcended race lives with his family in the White House. The question is no longer one about black vs. white. Evidence of improvement or failure cannot be found in single cases illuminated to the extreme by the media. And until Gallup learns to ask intelligent questions, opinion polls probably aren't going to tell us what we all know: things are changing -- fast. That's why all these right-wing whack jobs are out in the street. They're completely freaked out.

No, as long as you understand that "Yes We Can" applies to our cultural identities along with everything else, we're going to get there, we just don't know where that is yet.

Photo credit: Gary Roberts