An excerpt from "The Conversation on Race":

I keep hearing people bantering about this notion of a national conversation on race, and I have finally figured out why it rankles so. This is a country where any variant of the phrase "slavery caused the Civil War" is still considered controversial, and where respectable intellectuals believe the NAACP and the Tea Party movement are two sides of the same coin. The NAACP has repeatedly cited "elements of the Tea Party" for racism, and yet the argument is just as repeatedly rendered as "the NAACP says the Tea Party is racist."….

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 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.

It's not so much that we don't know — it's that we aspire to not know. The ignorance of the African-American thread in the broader American quilt — the essential nature of that thread — is willful, and the greatest evidence that the spirit of white supremacy walks with us. There was a lot of self-congratulation around the justice done on Shirley Sherrod. It's premature. The thing will happen again. Race isn't a "distraction" from Obama's agenda — it's the compromised, unsure ground upon which this country walks every day. It is the monster, and it will not be evaded writing Shirley Sherrod off to the machinations of the 24-hour news cycle.

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