Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Why Racial Gaps Persist

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asked this question in today's op-eds:

Like a lot of African Americans, I've long wondered what the deal was with Condoleezza Rice and the issue of race. How does she work so loyally for George W. Bush, whose approval rating among blacks was measured in a recent poll at a negligible 2 percent? How did she come to a worldview so radically different from that of most black Americans? Is she blind, is she in denial, is she confused -- or what?

I don't think Rice is any of those things. Clearly she is neither confused or in denial as to her race, as even Robinson admits:

She doesn't deny that race makes a difference. "We all look forward to the day when this country is race-blind, but it isn't yet," she told reporters in Birmingham. Later she added, "The fact that our society is not colorblind is a statement of fact."

She knows that she is a black woman four heartbeats from the Presidency (the highest level of government any black woman has achieved). She is aware of her prominent place in the world. I think she continues to work for President Bush because she doesn't put her race before her political sense or ideals. She believes in many of the same things as the President and knows for a fact that this President, for all his faults, has elevated more minorities to positions of real power than any other President, Republican or Democrat, ever has.

But what Robinson really means is that Rice doesn't subscribe to his world view, one in which blacks are supposed to be the natural recipient of help and support:

One of the things she somehow missed was that in Titusville and other black middle-class enclaves, a guiding principle was that as you climbed, you were obliged to reach back and bring others along. Rice has been a foreign policy heavyweight for nearly two decades; she spent four years in the White House as the president's national security adviser. In the interview, she mentioned just one black professional she has brought with her from the National Security Council to State.

One could credibly argue that Condoleezza Rice made the most of the breaks she received, but made it to the rarified status she occupies through her own hard work. Why then would she have to "bring others along?" She no doubt feels that exellence and success is earned through hard work, not "given" as Robinson seems to indicate. And while we are on the subject, why is it that in black America, one is expected to "reach back and bring others along." What if they don't want to come along--Rice's path certainly is an unusual one and not one many blacks would have chosen, so why does she have to do this. Why is not being an example of what hard work can achieve not enough--it certainly seems enough for white America.

I wonder what Robinson thinks of Bill Cosby, who has rankled the black establishment with his blunt assessements of modern black culture in America. Cosby has routinely given huge amounts of money and time to historically black colleges and long espoused higher education and hard work for black America. Cosby has certainly reached back, but that has been his choice. Rice's choice has been to make America, including Black America, safer so that op-ed writers like Robinson can spout his brand of idiocy.

Robinson's world view is one which perpetuates the "forty acres and a mule" mindset of many of his generation. Robinson evidently believes that America owes him something because he is black. Therefore any black who makes good, like Rice or Cosby, must give back, but only on his terms, meaning "gimme, but I ain't gonna work for it." This mindset is no more apparent that in these passages:

As we were flying to Alabama, Rice said an interesting thing. She was talking about the history of the civil rights movement, and she said, "If you read Frederick Douglass, he was not petitioning from outside of the institutions but rather demanding that the institutions live up to what they said they were. If you read Martin Luther King, he was not petitioning from outside, he was petitioning from inside the principles and the institutions, and challenging America to be what America said that it was."

The civil rights movement came from the inside? I always thought the Edmund Pettus Bridge was outside.

I know very few black Americans who think of themselves fully as insiders in this society. No matter how high we rise, there's always that reality that Rice acknowledges: The society isn't colorblind, not yet. It's not always in the front of your mind, but it's there. We talk about it, we overcome it, but it's there.

By constantly reminding people of race, and its importance to people like Robinson, Robinson makes sure that we remain conscious of race. No doubt Rice is conscious of her race, but it doesn't define her. Nor would I suspect that Rice contemporaries and colleagues think of her as black first. Rather, Robinson is the person who thinks of himself as black first and not American, or a writer or a diplomat. Until black America can see themselves first as something other than black, there is always going to be that perceptible divide, that perception, among blacks and whites, that blacks are on the outside.

Rice is correct. Both Douglas and King argued, urged, cajoled and begged for an America that lived up to is stated ideals of equality. Neither man harbored any illusions that America was perfect, nor did they expect perfection. But equality cannot simply be imposed and it cannot be given. Equality is earned and Douglass and King which is why they rose above parochial racial world views and pointed out the failures of America as a nation rather than the failures of one race or another. In fact, Douglass and King knew, and expressed in their writing, speeches and life's work, that the history of America is about the creation of a "more perfect union."

Got Drive Through Specials at Jo's Cafe in order to sit in the OTB Traffic Jam listening and reading The Political Teen. Check out also Below the Beltway for their take.

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