Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Better Dialogue on Race

Glenn Loury and John McWhorter are back with their usual arch commentary on race in a recent Bloggingheads.  Both express great boredom with the endless cycles of this hoary American Dialogue.  I grant that it is perpetually juvenile and superficial.  But when John calls the whole enterprise "unnecessary", I entirely disagree.

I would distinguish between what could be learned and the tendency for little to be learned.  I agree that much of it tends to be theater - but that doesn't mean there isn't anything of substance to be learned, or discussed.  The problem is that so much of our political discourse is simply hackish in general.  Partisanship, talking points and scorekeeping take the day.

So when Glenn and John say there is nothing to be learned (again, I prefer "discussed"), I think that's really not true.  For instance let's take the Rand Paul flap.  The libertarian/tea party willingness to even entertain such foolishness speaks volumes about their priorities, and especially their view of race and class in America. 

This is how I see it being important: Paul's anti-civil rights view diminishes the legacy of racism, resulting current social and human capital in minority communities.  He and Tea Party's homogeneity and claims of "government intrusion" largely framed around minority/welfare issues, specifically in regard to social programs.  Granted these are pieces of a puzzle, but I think you can draw a pretty straight line from his statement to his party platform.  Ditto the Macaca (?) comment.  And generally the large number of racist Tea Party crap ever published.

Glenn points to "structural problems" driving minority poverty.  But how can he divorce this from Republican opposition to government intervention?  He can't seriously by the BS notion that these communities will pull themselves up without targeted government help?  And that's exactly what modern conservatism does not want.  They may pretend that they want smart government - but they never show any platform but cuts.  They basically have zero to offer minority communities.  Their one proposal for ending generational poverty through education - vouchers/charters - is aimed solely at parents motivated to escape the ghetto.  This is not a scaleable solution, it is a band-aid for certain parents who already have enough human/social capital to succeed and are stuck sending their kids to school with other ghetto kids.

The dialogue on race needs to be better.  It is definitely stuck in a sort of racist vs. non-racist framework that is absurdly inadequate to what we're dealing with in the 21st century.  Race is no longer just about racism, but about justice.  Most Americans want to be there, but they have no idea how to get there.  There are still many unconscious assumptions and prejudices that will eventually need to be exorcised.  We need to get back to looking at causality and practical steps we can take to move the country forward.

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