February 28, 2009: “Nation of Cowards”?

My dear friend Delia sent me a New York Times op-ed piece by Charles M. Blow re Attorney Eric Holder’s comment that we’re a “nation of cowards” because we don’t have frank conversations about race.

“I take exception to Holder’s language,” Blow says, “but not his line of reasoning. Calling people cowards is counterproductive. it turns the conversation into confrontation—moving it beyond the breach of true dialogue and the pale of real understanding.”

For what it’s worth: This week, I bumped into a bi-racial Somerville couple I’ve known for many years. We’re not close friends, but our lives overlap in several ways so we keep in touch. After we’d brought each other up to date—I’d asked about their daughter; they’d asked me how book sales were going—this husband-wife duo proceeded to tell stories about race and passing. Words we’d never spoken in each other’s presence before, words like “colored” and “Negro” and “prejudice” were said aloud.

Now I’ve known this couple for twenty years, I think, but this was the first time our “racial difference” (to quote a study mentioned in the Charles Blow piece.) was discussed.

Why now? First of all, because they’d initiated it. (Honestly? Even now, right this minute, looking back. I have no idea how I could have brought up the subject of race. No idea.) So why did they initiate this conversation? I think  because they’d hoped that the woman they know slightly who’d written Way Opens might be open to—and fascinated by—their stories. And they were right.

So, yeah, I’m perfectly willing to label myself a coward. But, I’d also like to humbly (Really!) suggest that some relationships, like the breezy, Hi-how-are-ya? interactions with a neighbor (who just might be a person of color), or the friendship/acquaintanceship I’ve had with this biracial couple, don’t offer much in the way of openings to begin “true dialogue.”

Or am I just being cowardly?

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1 Comment

  1. I have to agree with a “nation of cowards” when it comes to race and the openness of it. The North particular is very scared of the issue. In North Carolina there are still clubs that are whites only and every year in Raleigh, NC there is a kkk rally (which I saw myself in 2004) right around the corner of Duke University. It is definitely healthier to be open about race.
    To say there will be confrontation is admitting there is a vital issue being sidestepped by Blow. Blow should make a position on race openly, but he will not because of the consequences. I find, in the many racial confrontations I have been involved in, that everyone enjoys openness about these fragile issues. I have found that no one is actually racists until they have met “all” the worlds different people. The racists that have met me were open, but they enjoyed my company because I knew they did not like black people for a “group reason” and not a “personal reason.”
    How could they if they have never met all the “others,” especially me.
    When I see lighten bolts tattooed on a person it mean” Arian Nation.” I see a sign of insecurity, and I am open to converse about it.

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