Cowards or just plain tired

Published 4:18 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Attorney General (AG) of the new administration made quite a splash a few days ago as he called this country out in its approach to race.

AG Eric Holder was giving a speech at the Department of Justice, the department for which he is responsible, on the significance of Black History Month.

Most of you probably heard a sound bite from the speech through the news. Sound bites are used by news media to tease us or to get us riled. Sometimes the sound bite has little to do with the overall context of the speech or news conference. This particular sound bite certainly served its purpose if it was meant to irritate a large portion of the American population.

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In this much-discussed calling out, AG Holder called America a nation of cowards. The specific quote was this: “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

My initial reaction was to be offended, so I read the entire speech. What was the context of his controversial words? If his desire was for me to be a part of a constructive discussion on race relations, why would he insult me by using such a negative word?

Actually Mr. Holder’s speech had many examples of much success that had come from the legal aspects of our nation. Technically speaking, our country is light years ahead of where we were just a few decades ago.

The bone that Mr. Holder wanted to pick with America was not legal or technical, though.

He felt that our progress, socially, lagged far behind the political progress, and he is right. Our laws have made it almost impossible to discriminate against anyone on the basis of the color of their skin. Monday through Friday our workplaces and public areas are mostly colorblind.

According to Mr. Holder, though, Saturdays and Sundays continue to need help. I will acknowledge that racial problems continue to exist and, as a white person of Southern heritage, I have seen its ugliness. But I don’t agree with Mr. Holder’s assessment that our nation is full of cowardice.

Here is what I think.

In the entire text of his speech, the Attorney General says, “we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.” Sometimes it seems to me that everything I hear is based on race.

One side of the divide asks the question, “Does everything have to come down to race?”

The other side answers, “Yes, and it’s about time!”

The end result of all the talk is that each side becomes more and more entrenched in their own ways of thinking. I wonder what would happen if we did not talk about race for a while. Would things get better? Is all the talking making things better? Not really.

That’s because the discussions always want us to end up thinking the same way and that’s impossible. I may be wrong on this, but have thought about it for a long time. Mr. Holder says that we too often speak of “them” and “us,” as if that is a bad thing.

I would agree that it is not right to treat anyone, regardless of color, unfairly and without dignity. I believe that God does not show favoritism to any race or gender and that is the way we should look upon people. All people are created equal in the realm of God’s love, mercy and grace. We have the capacity to treat people in the same way.

Yet, we are different in our ways. I would feel about as comfortable in a pair of sagging pants as a teenager would feel in a pair of overalls. I get about as much pleasure out of hip-hop music as I do out of a deep cleaning at the dentist.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think that a person should be able to wear the fashions they desire or listen to the kind of music they like. Plus, I don’t mean to be contrary, but all the talk in the world won’t convince me to wear droopy drawers or listen to Ludacris.

About the best thing I can do is learn to live with those who like different styles of music, movies, food, recreation, etc. I can learn to appreciate them and give them all the space they need for their pursuits. But should I feel guilty if I don’t spend my precious time with them? I don’t think so.

I’ll spend my time with people who like the same kinds of things I like. That’s called freedom. It’s also what has made this country the admired nation that it is.

The Attorney General was making a speech to say that we have failed to confront this issue of race appropriately. He has his point of view that it is simply a matter of talking more and more. I don’t think he understands how weary we are of the talk.

There is much work to be done between people. We have all fallen short of who and what we can be. The answer, though, does not lie in more governmental led discussions or directives. Morality or love cannot be legislated or artificially driven. This is a God thing.