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Top Officials Expand The Dialogue on Race

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  • Beowulf
    What dialogue ? There is no dialogue and will not be...except between racists like Holder and everyone who voted for Obama because he s black (and that is
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28, 2009
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      What "dialogue"? There is no dialogue and will not be...except between
      racists like Holder and everyone who voted for Obama because he's black (and
      that is the ONLY reason anyone did vote for Obama...certainly not based on
      his policies because he never had any). And who wants to dialogue with


      Top Officials Expand The Dialogue on Race
      Month's Celebrations Evoke a Mix of Views

      By Krissah Thompson
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Saturday, February 28, 2009; A01

      When the country's racial chasms seemed to threaten President Obama's
      election, his team had to tread carefully. A month into his administration,
      the tone has changed. Top officials are engaging the subject of race more
      freely, with a boldness and confidence they once shunned.

      With the federal government's annual African American History Month
      celebrations as a backdrop, the attorney general, the first lady and the
      head of the Environmental Protection Agency spoke more frankly about race
      recently than any of Obama's surrogates did during the hard-fought campaign.

      Lisa P. Jackson, the EPA administrator and a native of New Orleans, told her
      staff about having grown up in an area where she would have had to drink
      from unsafe water fountains because of her race. "Now in 2009, I am, along
      with you, responsible for ensuring that all Americans have clean water to
      drink," Jackson said. "Change has certainly come to this agency."

      First lady Michelle Obama hosted middle-schoolers in the White House East
      Room and taught the children about African Americans and their roles in the
      executive mansion: the slaves who built it, the signing of the Emancipation
      Proclamation there, the meetings held with civil rights leaders.

      Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who ignited the most debate, used his
      Feb. 18 address as an admonition that "to get to the heart of this country,
      one must examine its racial soul."

      "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," Holder said. "Though race-related issues
      continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and
      though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we,
      average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race."

      The plain talk may be an attempt to expand the racial dialogue Obama called
      for during his speech on the subject in Philadelphia last year, but whether
      Americans want to go there remains unanswered. White House officials said
      the African American History Month celebrations were choreographed across
      the federal government. Reaction so far has been mixed.

      Holder has been rebuked by some who contend that with Obama's election, the
      country proved its willingness to move beyond the color line. New York Times
      columnist Maureen Dowd likened Holder's remarks at the Justice Department's
      African American History Month program to a lecture on race by Jesse Jackson
      or Al Sharpton. "Barack Obama's election was supposed to get us past that,"
      she wrote.

      Jen Singer, author of "You're a Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren't So Bad
      Either)," wrote on the Web site BettyConfidential.com that "Michelle Obama
      could talk all she wanted about Black History Month, slavery and
      segregation, but no words could better illustrate to today's schoolchildren
      how far this country has come than her presence as First Lady."

      There is a risk in talking about it too much, said Thomas Mann, a political
      scientist at the Brookings Institution, in an e-mail. During his campaign,
      Obama made an explicit decision not to emphasize race and did so only when
      it threatened to damage his candidacy. Changing course now could make some
      feel uncomfortable.

      Nearly six in 10 Americans said Obama's presidency will do more to help race
      relations in this country, according to a January Washington Post-ABC News
      poll. But whites and African Americans start out with widely divergent views
      on the racial climate in the country. Overall, about three-quarters of those
      surveyed called racism a problem in society today, with one-quarter labeling
      it a "big" problem. Twice as many blacks (44 percent) as whites (22 percent)
      called it a big problem.

      "They definitely have to be careful," Mann said of the Obama administration.
      "Better to have the president and his top African American aides serve as
      role models and achieve the broader objective by indirection."

      Others argue that African American administration officials are simply
      bringing their background, perspective and history to the public sphere.
      Holder, Jackson and Obama are the first African Americans in their
      positions, and it should come as no surprise that their celebration of black
      history is different from their predecessors', said Shawnta Walcott, a
      pollster at Ariel & Ethan.

      "I think what we know about the first lady is that part of her persona is to
      go one level down into something that she thinks is significant," Walcott
      said. "She is the first African American first lady, so we should expect to
      see those sorts of nuanced pieces of information coming from her. It is
      unusual for the norm, but she is not the norm."

      There are attempts now to define the new normal. Last weekend, after
      Holder's use of the phrase "nation of cowards" drew criticism, it became a
      subject of discussion at a Princeton University symposium titled "From the
      Middle Passage to the Oval Office: Defining the Black Experience."

      One of the panelists, Jeff Johnson, host and producer of Black Entertainment
      Television's "The Truth," said the reaction to the attorney general's
      comments read as if "he was saying only white Americans were cowards."

      Holder "was talking about all of us, from white Americans to African
      Americans to Asians to Latinos," said Eddie S. Glaude Jr., a professor of
      religion and African American studies at Princeton. "The fact that we would
      read Holder's comments as only about white Americans shows us how we are
      thinking about race when it is invoked."

      Glaude noted that reaction to Holder's comments coincided with publication
      of a controversial editorial cartoon in the New York Post. NAACP officials
      decried the cartoon as a racist depiction of the president as a slain
      chimpanzee. The NAACP called for the cartoonist and his editor to be fired
      and held protests Thursday at Fox News affiliates in 50 cities. The Fox News
      affiliates and the New York Post have the same owner, News Corp.

      Other people have shushed protesters as overly sensitive.

      "It is just the traditional theater of American racial politics," Glaude

      Rinku Sen, president of the Applied Research Center, a think tank on race in
      Oakland, Calif., Chicago and New York, said she also worries that the
      dialogue about race is being pushed back into the old paradigm that kept the
      nation in a stalemate.

      "I think that the line is, 'We've elected the black president, and now we're
      post-racial and everybody should just shut up.' It's very dismissive," Sen
      said. "We did elect the first black president, but people seem to forget
      that it was a hard campaign."

      To Jelani Cobb, a professor of African American history at Spelman College,
      the back-and-forth about race in the age of Obama already feels old.

      "Our major concerns about race are not conversations," Cobb said. "They are
      about policies, and they are about entrenched legacies of privilege and
      underprivilege. So in some ways, these conversations are a substitute for
      other kinds of more meaningful reform or interaction."

      Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.



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