Monday, February 12, 2007

Race Into the Open

It is always preferable to have views and sentiments -- even ugly ones -- aired out in the open rather than forcing them into hiding through suppression. And part of the reason people intently run away from discussions of race (just as they stay away from discussions of Middle East political disputes, specifically ones involving Israel) is because it is too easy to unwittingly run afoul of various unwritten speech rules, thereby triggering accusations of bigotry. That practice has the effect of keeping people silent, which in turn has the effect of reinforcing the appearance that nobody thinks about race (which is why nobody discusses it), which in turn prevents a constructive discussions of hidden and unwarranted premises.

For that reason, scouring people's comments about Obama and race, in search of evidence of even minor deviations from speech mores, is not really constructive. But it is notable just how many implicit assumptions about race lurk beneath these observations.

And it is even more notable how freely these patronizing sentiments are being expressed in the context of Obama's candidacy, often -- as in Biden's and Simon's case -- expressed as though they are compliments (he is so clean and articulate, he is so non-threatening, he seems like one of the moderate ones, he isn't really "militant"), because the speakers are not even consciously aware of the implications of those assumptions. It can be unpleasant to watch people struggle with these awkward discussions, but, on balance, anything which forces these issues more out into the open is probably a positive development.

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