Discussing race is a tricky thing. And by “tricky,” I mean terrifying. There is no other topic in modern American discourse that is so fraught with heated passions and so loaded with landmines. Simply raising the issue sets most folks on emotional edge, and unbiased treatments of the matter are sadly few and far between.
First things first — racism still exists in the United States. Now, I’m typically a “glass half full” kind of guy, and I really believe we’ve come a very long way in remedying injustices of the past. But whether the glass is half empty or half full, halfway is 50 percent — and that’s a failing grade in every class.
While many of us yearn for a race-neutral society, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get there anytime soon. One of my favorite thinkers, Thomas Sowell, says it best in the opening of his new book, “Intellectuals and Race”: “Racial issues show no sign of going away. The only question is how we confront them.”
To effectively confront the tough subject of race, we have to make a commitment to intellectual honesty. This means leaving personal feelings at the door and analyzing circumstances dispassionately. By doing so, I truly believe we may be able to achieve long-term resolutions to our racial divide. That said, we live in a world focused on the short-term, and the realm where the short-term is in sharpest focus is politics.
Though there are studies surfacing now that show more Americans coexist in the political center, you’d never know it by turning on the television. Almost all political conversation is dominated by extremists who would like nothing more than to pull the rest of us farther away from one another. And as despicable as it is, these dividers often decide race can be a wonderfully helpful tool in accomplishing that goal.
An increasingly popular move from the hard left is to paint conservatives as an antiquated lot of stuffy old white men, stuck in their ways and resistant to change. Of course, the Republican Party hasn’t done the best job altering this perception, and as 2013 dawned, it looked like that image might actually lead the GOP into some seriously choppy waters. But then President Obama delivered what appears to be a godsend to his adversaries with the current Obamacare debacle. Every Right Wing political aspirant for the 2014 and 2016 elections has been breathing that word, “Obamacare,” with increased contempt since the Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment went live — or tried to — in October.
Now that the GOP and their ideological cousins from the Tea Party are back on the offensive, those on the Left are scrambling to stop their momentum. And what better way to neutralize the attacks on Obamacare than load the term down with the ultimate conversation-stopper: race.
Last weekend, MSNBC television personality and Tulane University professor, Melissa Harris-Perry, made a lot of noise when she attempted to lead the charge on this front, labelling “Obamacare” as a racist phrase. The logic is straightforward from the Left on this: Turn the word into a racial slur, thus turning all who use it into racists. Voila! How simple! And how utterly horrible.
Instead of letting the merits of the legislation be discussed, which would obviously tilt the debate in favor of conservatives, Harris-Perry and her friends are hoping to shut the whole thing down by throwing the race grenade.
A move like this is a sellout, plain and simple. It may be intellectual dishonesty at its worst. We still have lots of ground to cover on the race front in America, and for short-term political gains, Harris-Perry and her friends are willing to turn back the clock. My hope is that folks will recognize this disgraceful tactic for what it is, and instead focus on the common ground that does exist between us to address the real race problems that do exist.
David Martin is an adjunct professor of history at UTC.