(Will have audio up later…)

I’ll be on The Mike Signorile Show (SIRIUS OutQ  – channel 109 – sign up for a free trial and listen in) at 3:30 PM to discuss Obama’s speech about race, and the impact of race and our lack of ability to discuss it until it boils over as it has in this election cycle (and even then, not particularly productively).

Feel free to discuss the show in the comments. After the jump I have some questions and thoughts I’ve run on here in the past to open discussions about race.Some questions I’ve asked on the blog about race.

How we discuss it.

* Do you believe that political consultants use subtle and overt racism to score points because it works, and that the end justifies the means? Is that good for our society, or does it matter?

* Do you think that some white people are uncomfortable when race comes up in the presidential race, from either campaign or surrogates? Why?

* Do you think that the uncomfortability of discussions about racism and implicit bias causes a shutdown of honest dialog about it in the progressive movement?  

* Does the potential defensive reaction of blacks toward broaching the topic of race inhibit at all? What personal incidents inform that judgment – and is it fair to apply that to all black people?

* Does the fear of being perceived as racist or patronizing outweigh the benefits of addressing honest questions we have about the effect of race?


Reasons I’ve heard progressive people say they won’t vote for Obama

   The reasons I hear most (and these folks are white) are similar in nature —  “I didn’t/won’t vote for Obama because…”

   — “he can’t win, because there are too many (other) people who won’t vote for a black man; he’s unelectable.”

   — “If he advances too far, Obama could be assassinated; I don’t want to be responsible for that occurring. [“enabling it to happen”].

   — “it’s time for a woman. His time will come.”


The blackness exercise and perceptions of what makes someone black

In the quest to assign some level of “blackness” to Barack Obama by both whites and blacks, I think some exercises are useful.

Think about these questions, answer and discuss:

1. Two people who are standing before you, one biracial, one fair-skinned black, and both appear to be black because of their physical features. How would you categorize them?

2. Two people who are standing before you, one biracial person who appears to be black, one fair-skinned black who appears to be white because of their physical features. How would you categorize them? What if the situations are reversed — any difference?

3. In subsequent conversations with them, it can make a race assignment solely on appearance more difficult; how will you weigh:

* the whole “articulate” thing (the Acting White phenomenon playing itself out)

* their perceived level of education

* how they personally identify re: race

* their political affiliation (and/or identification with the perceived leaders of the civil rights movement)

* the amount you identify with them (the cultural commonalities versus the physical differences)

There are no right or wrong answers here — it’s simply a chance to think out loud about how it takes a great deal of deliberate thought to analyze how we view race, class, and culture in our daily lives. What we choose to do about it as a result of that self-reflection is our choice.

It just appears that people simply aren’t thinking very hard (or perhaps too hard) about these deeper perceptions about race when it comes to Obama. I’m not surprised, since it’s clear a sizeable number of people either cannot or refuse to look inward and reflect on our need to place people in neat racial and ethnic boxes to make it easier to keep the system we have in place — as uncomfortable as it is — because it is familiar. Obama’s rise changes the rules of the game, and those already in the game (on both sides) don’t want those rules to change.

On the Acting White Phenomenon:

I was slammed by kids for “talking white” and “acting white” because I was doing well in junior high school. It was made worse by the fact that I didn’t have a southern accent even though I’m a native Southerner.

As I said then, the sad truth is that, in a public school that was at least 75% black, I was pulled over by one of the elderly black teachers one day and she told me that she was so proud of me — I was the first black student to make the honor roll in that school.

That was in the 70s; I cannot imagine what it is like now growing up, with the saturation of anti-intellectualism and materialism foisted upon and soaked up as “culture” by some in the black community.Whenever I write about this topic, I receive emails that can be divided into two types (most people, I suppose, are afraid to comment publicly): 1) the white liberals and some blacks who think I’m taking socioeconomic conditions and institutionalized racism too lightly as a factor; 2) blacks who have experienced the same kind of blowback from their peers for doing well in school, saying they were glad I said something about the topic.

I usually also receive a smattering of mail from people who argue that white kids have to deal with the same kind of underachievement “slacker” pressures; but they aren’t the same. White kids don’t have their peers telling them that they are acting like another race, one that has historically been charged with laziness or intellectual inferiority.

The truth is that black kids in middle class homes fall prey to this underachiever peer pressure at school, and there are plenty of kids in crap public schools (and from broken homes) that still manage to achieve. There is no one cause, no one answer.

This isn’t a liberal or conservative issue in many respects; it’s another one of those topics that neither side knows how to fix, and talking head ends up arguing on the fringes of the problem, pointing fingers about what’s to blame instead of acknowledging it’s too complex an issue for “black/white” thinking. It’s all tied up in the myriad problems Americans have when the topic of race comes up — people end up talking past one another, inflamed, emotional and defensive.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding