Thursday, January 14, 2010

On That Racial Dialogue

You know that Douglas Wilder, the first black elected governor of a state, must be serious about the remarks of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when he compared them to the White Citizens' Council, a sort of kinder, gentler Ku Klux Klan from the 1960s-1970s American south. In a guest commentary in The Washington Times, the former Virginia Democratic governor argued

Whether those words and the sentiment they represent were spoken in the U.S. Senate to praise Mr. Obama or used to sanitize deep-seated hatred at a White Citizens' Council meeting in the 1950s, they are reprehensible and indefensible. No ifs ands or buts about it. Our leaders need to acknowledge that fact.

Declining, fortunately, to call for the resignation of the Nevada Senator, Wilder concluded

But that doesn't mean that we as a nation don't need to have a discussion about how far we have come and how far we have left to go. Let's talk rationally about race in this country - and catch up with the nation's young people, who are light-years ahead of certain folks with big offices on Capitol Hill.

Fair enough. The nation's young people (with many exceptions) "are light-years ahead of certain folks with big offices on Capitol Hill" and of many, if not most, individuals who grew up in an earlier time. And we do "need to have a discussion about how far we have come and how far we have left to go"- and about all facets of race in American society.

Nevertheless, it's not wise to borrow the legendary approach to prostitution of "Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price" by implying "we already know you're a racist, now we're just going to determine how to educate you." And the next time we on the left call for a dialogue on race, let's not start it by comparing those with a different perspective with a now-defunct organization remembered almost exclusively for trafficking in bigotry and hatred. It might be a little more productive that way.

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