Race Matters

February 1, 2010by

Today marks the beginning of Black History Month, and while it is apparent to most people that issues of discrimination and prejudice on the basis of one’s race are by no means merely a remnant of the past, there is still much to learn about how such basic human characteristics affect human actions, attitudes, and relationships. Take this report from Marketplace, for example:

This probably doesn’t deserve much attention, but in the spirit of pointing out the obstacles this country still faces is getting past racial issues, here goes: Something called The All-American Basketball Alliance announced this week that it plans to launch a professional league in June in 12 Southeastern cities. According to the press release, “only players that are natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race are eligible to play.”

In the interest of fairness, I’ll let Don “Moose” Lewis, the brain-father of this idea, have a say here.

While it may be true that there are some troubling moral issues among professional athletes, some of whom happen to be basketball players, it is difficult to see how starting a semi-professional racially discriminatory league is in any way a constructive response. Going “the nostalgia way” may give some people a kind of comfort, but if that nostalgia includes an intentional racial division justified by labeling an entire class of people gun carrying violent showboats, well, that would be, as Sir Charles put it, “blatantly racist.”

Race Matters

Cornel WestIn one of the most definitive statements on the nature of race relations in the United States, Cornel West identifies several persisting problems. Among them are a false dichotomy between structural and behavioral analyses, nihilism, a lack of nerve on the part of black leaders, and the need to find more effective ways to channel black rage. And he describes the fundamental crisis in black America as twofold: “too much poverty and too little self-love.” (p. 63) Of the former West says, “Affirmative action is not the most important issue for black progress in America, but it is a part of a redistributive chain that must be strengthened if we are to confront and eliminate black poverty.” What exactly the redistributive measures should be, along with how and by whom they might be realized, is a tough puzzle to solve. What is clear is that West has little confidence those in positions of social, economic, and political power will be taking the lead to solve it. I can’t help but give a lamented “amen” to that.

On the latter aspect of the crisis,

The difficult and delicate quest for black identity is integral to any talk about racial equality. Yet it is not solely a political or economic matter. The quest for black identity involved self-respect and self-regard, realms inseparable from, yet not identical to, political power and economic status. The flagrant self–loathing among black middle-class professionals bears witness to this painful process. Unfortunately, black conservatives focus on the issue of self-respect as if it were the one key that would open all doors to black progress. They illustrate the fallacy of trying to open all doors with one key: they wind up closing their eyes to all doors except the one the key fits.

Changing Directions

One event that has for the past ten years marked a crucial step in the right direction for Black America is the State of the Black Union, hosted by Tavis Smiley. While its annual schedule has now ended, the analysis, conversations, and insights from past years can still provide a launching point for education and initiatives to resolve the issues of black poverty and self-loathing in America. You can view entire sessions of the conference at C-SPAN, and several more targeted statements at the Tavis Talks Archive.

For a fuller, more personal, connection with Cornell West, see Living & Loving Out Loud.