Why a Conversation on Race Is Not Enough

Even if we could convince 95 percent of white people that black Americans are still mistreated in the U.S., there's no chance for a second civil rights revolution.

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It's good music, this idea once again in the air in the wake of L'affaire Sherrod -- that America needs to have a "conversation" about race, or that America is culpable in that it won't happen. I've always been especially stimulated by the corollary that often comes with the call for "conversation": that America needs to understand how race and racism have been part of the warp and woof of our becoming the nation that we are.

The problem is that all there is in this evergreen "conversation" notion is music and stimulation.

First of all, to yearn for a time when all, or even most, Americans could recite a disquisition on how the nation's economy was once built on cotton, how New Deal policies often underserved blacks, and roughly 12 other factoids is a fantasy.

Never in the history of the world has there been a citizenry of any nation so supremely informed, so quintessentially sensitive, so furiously intellectual. It is unclear to me that there could be, logically, an exception to this even when the topic is the descendants of African slaves.

Do people calling for this really imagine that this epidemic of sage awareness and moral sophistication could ever take place? I suggest that calls for it are more performance art than anything else.

After all, let's say it happened.

Let's say that all of non-black America looked all of black America in the eye and acknowledged that racism can be institutional rather than overt, that America was founded on racism and that life chances for black people are lower than for white people on the average and that this is not black people's fault.

I know -- that's not what the numbers would be. But I'm going for something specific here: Suppose they were 95 percent. Suppose the people calling for a "conversation" got what they really wanted. Suppose America did "get it."

Here's the point: it wouldn't be enough.

After the "conversation" took place, then even if it were precisely the nationwide conversion that people seek, the people who called for the conversation would not be satisfied. It's why I insist that a "conversation" is not what people of this mind really want.

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