Why the “Conversation on Race” is Just Babble

Two essays well worth reading.

By Jamilah King Jul 28, 2010

Between the [Shirley Sherrod](http://colorlines.com/archives/2010/07/how_breitbart_won–and_why_we_must_rethink_racism.html) scandal and the [Tea Party’s madness](http://colorlines.com/archives/2010/07/naacp_tea_partys_racism_and_lost_perspective.html), the country’s been talking a lot about race lately. And, [according to Ta-Nehisi Coates](http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/07/the-conversation-on-race/60362/) at The Atlantic, not saying a whole lot: > Expecting an American conversation on race in this country, is like expecting financial advice from someone who prefers to not check their bank balance. It’s not that the answers, themselves, are pre-ordained, it’s that we are more interested in answers than questions, in verdicts than evidence. Even now, there are people who insist–in spite of the actual video–that the NAACP audience is actually cheering for Sherrod to not help the white farmer. > > Put bluntly, this is a country too ignorant of itself to grapple with race in any serious way. The very nomenclature–"conversation on race"–betrays the unseriousness of the thing by communicating the sense that race can be boxed from the broader American narrative, that you can somehow talk about Thomas Jefferson without Sally Hemmings; that you can discuss Andrew Jackson without discussing his betrayal of the black artillerymen who fought at the Battle of New Orleans; that you can discuss the suffrage without Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells or Frederick Douglass; that you can discuss temperance without understanding the support of the Klan; that you can discuss the path to statehood in Florida without discussing Fort Gadsen; that you can talk Texas without understanding cotton, and so on. The piece is worth a full read. [Check it out.](http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/07/the-conversation-on-race/60362/) Meanwhile, [Joel Anderson at The Prospect agrees](http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=burying_post_racial), adding that it’s time to bury the very goal our "conversation" purports to achieve: Getting to a "post-racial" wonderland: > By even engaging with the term, we give it staying power and credibility with people — mostly racists, certain right-wingers, lazy pundits, or other denialists — who know that it’s a lie or hope to convince the clueless that it’s true. Tossing around the phrase gives more life to the lie, and for those interested in the truth about racism, it’s a self-imposed obstacle. We can’t move forward; we first have to debunk the idea of a post-racial America, and then we can have a conversation. > > That conversation is necessary, and it takes only a brief swing through Google to see how institutional racism remains part of the American way. The U.S. imprisons a larger share of its black population than South Africa did at the pinnacle of apartheid; a recent study found that racial disparities in health care cost the country $229 billion from 2003-2006; and the income gap between blacks and whites has actually widened over the past three decades. [Read more.](http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=burying_post_racial)