There's a "Race War" Going On -- But My Neighbor Still Said, "Hi!"

"This race thing… it’s dicey."

"We’re on the brink of a race war."

I heard these statements on MSNBC yesterday morning before I took my kids to school. I peered outside to check out whether folks were giving each other beat downs on the corner, because you know, out here in LA, we seemingly know how to do "race war" very well.

As you know, we will burn this city up over, oh, little things like white cops getting acquitted for beating down a black man named Rodney King. So who knows what LA would do in a situation where a politician's playing games and making racially charged insinuations about another candidate, and then blaming that candidate for the whole thing. Only a very heightened sense of superiority would allow an individual to believe that we will follow the marching orders and act like what we heard said does not mean what we think it means.

You know we're crazy out here, right? We're so psycho in LA that we might continue to misinterpret, misunderstand and take some quotes out of context. And then what might happen? We might burn down this entire city, which would definitely mean no Oscars. And then, what the heck! We might call up our friends who moved up the 15 Freeway to Las Vegas in search of affordable housing and tell them to go ahead and destroy Las Vegas too. I mean, we are having a race war so we do need to live up to the hype. Burn, baby, burn!

But I digress. Where were we? Oh yes, taking the kids to school.

The coast seemed clear so I took my sons outside where I immediately ran into my white neighbors. They said hello in the same cheerful way they always do.

I wasn't expecting this because of, you know, the race war. Things were supposed to pop off like that scene in "Do the Right Thing" where everybody starts spewing out all their racial prejudices about other groups:

That didn't happen though so I walked the kids down the hill, said, "Buenos Dias," to the Latina shop owner I speak to every morning. Dropped the kids at school, stopped at the Korean market, got a can of Coke Zero, chatted with the owner's wife, and then came home unscathed.

"We’re on the brink of a race war." Gosh, I must have "misinterpreted" the meaning of those words. It's my fault. I'm probably a "race card" player. Aagh! Someone give me a hair shirt to wear as punishment because I clearly need to get my information straight.

How appropriate then that I have another info gathering opportunity in tonight's Democratic debate. An added bonus is that today is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday -- so maybe the candidates will be forced to answer a question about all this.

MSNBC has a link on their site where we, the people, can submit questions. I asked, given Hurricane Katrina, the Jena Six and the discussion about race in the current Presidential campaign, what each candidate would do, if anything, as President to foster racial unity in America.

I'm not talking about some sort of phony, "let's all transcend race" sort of unity either. Let's keep it real and acknowledge that the only person being required to transcend race is Barack Obama. None of the other candidates are being required to "transcend" their race because their race is the "right" race.

If you're white in America, you don't have to transcend or overcome your race to become President of the United States. Whiteness is the norm and no one is going to feel uncomfortable with you if you're a white President.

I have a feeling my debate question won't get asked. It's just a feeling, but I'm sure I'm right, and this might not be a bad thing. There's a high likelihood we'd merely hear candidates invoking Dr. King's name and highlighting how they have each always worked for change, unity and social justice, and have always been an admirer of Dr. King.

I wonder if we'll hear a bunch of, "I have black friends and supporters," name dropping going on tomorrow night. Maybe we'll see Hillary Clinton somehow spotlight that BET Founder Bob Johnson, the man who green lit "BET Uncut", home of the infamously degrading, booty-shaking "Tip Drill" music video porno, is a supporter of hers.

Or maybe she's going to use that video as an example of how she's advocating for all women. She'll tell us the booty shaking in it is a demonstration of what black women can achieve.

Gosh, I hope none of the candidates says the classic, "I don't see color!" line. It's been said before but I'll say it again. How could you not see my color? I see it when I look in the mirror every day. I want you to see my color. Don't "see me" like the boss who flat out told me he only wanted me to go to an event because I was black, and it was a "black" event.

No, see me in all my beauty. Respect me as being your equal. Love me because I'm part of your human family.

Which one of these candidates will stand up and actually say we need to have a real dialogue about how to overcome the sickness of racism? Which one of them will humbly acknowledge that running for President does not absolve someone from needing to check their biases, prejudices and ingrained mindsets? The opposite of war is peace so who is the voice sincerely calling for racial peace? Which candidate will acknowledge that forgiveness is needed but so is an end to the inherent sense of superiority?

Which will -- oh heck, I stop while I'm ahead. I think the crickets are already chirping. And besides, it's almost time for me to go out into the race war that is American life. Let me go put on my battle armor.


Liz, I am so curious to see how South Carolina turns out, esp. after Bob Johnson's stupid statements.

The Clintons and their surrogates played with fire and got burned. I hope they don't do it again. It's obnoxious and very cynical.
Anonymous said…
Some journalists just love trying to whip up conflicts and 'wars' where they don't exist. A bit of local friction over something and straightaway the hacks are conjuring up towns being torn apart and society collapsing. And quite often it's them causing the friction in the first place by fanning myths that black people are grabbing all the houses and all the jobs and waging jihad. The destructive power of the media....
Anonymous said…
Oh, I meant to mention Liz, excellent question - hope it gets debated.
1969 said…
Youjust put it down with this statement:

"Let's keep it real and acknowledge that the only person being required to transcend race is Barack Obama. None of the other candidates are being required to "transcend" their race because their race is the "right" race."

I have to go nominate your for an award.
Kari Carlson said…
Liz - I only had a moment to read your first couple of paragraphs. (I will come back and visit again later today). But, so far, you are cracking me up. I love your writing style.

By the way, I showed your facebook pix to Kelsey and Walter last night. They were beaming looking at your boys!

Ian Lidster said…
Don't give up hope, my love. Someday we'll get past it. I love the fact that Hillary is in a tough and defensive place, however. She deserves to be.
And I agree about journalistic irresponsibility, and I say this as a journalist of long standing.
Lisa Blah Blah said…
I have a friend who often prefaced comments about stories such as these with, "When the race war comes -- and it will come..."

Glad to hear your neighbors are still speaking to you and not saying stuff like, "You know, black people are just so sensitive about all this, we all have to be so politically correct all the time." Yeah, sorry about that. Sorry if it makes you uncomfortable to think about things you conveniently never have to think about!

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

By the way, excellent question. I wonder if they'll dare to use it.
Jameil said…
giiiiiirl!! i love this post rt. here!! "None of the other candidates are being required to "transcend" their race." WORD. and can't even fathom what its like to have to do so. like how yest. meredith vierra asked michael eric dyson how will af-am voters respond & he had to 1st say "blks are not a monolithic people..." ya jam skippy b/c bob johnson DOES NOT speak for me or most of the blk people i know. AND them tryin to turn this back on obama just lets me KNOW i do NOT want hillary in office.
Jen said…
Fabulous post, once again.

And right on target. And I hope that Hillary is burying herself bit by bit. We DO need real hope for this country and we DO need healing.

For my money, Obama's the only one who has a shot at taking on this oh-so-difficult task.
Liz Dwyer said…
I'm really curious about South Carolina as well. Every time I see the clip of Bob Johnson's comments, my blood just boils! And I find it fascinating that there just seems to be a lack of awareness that BET is not revered in the homes of many African-Americans.

There has definitely been some false information spread around. Total journalistic irresponsibility, although to give them a break, the journalists weren't the origin of the false info. They just repeat it, speculate on it and watch it grow. I do think so much of what is passed off as hard news is a lot of subjective opinion, no better than what is contained on this blog.

We'll see if the question gets asked. The debate is going to start pretty soon!

As I was writing this it just came to me why that "transcend" talk has been bugging me. It's taken me since Obama won in Iowa to really name it. But every time I've heard that word, I feel like I'm being stabbed between the eyes. And how sweet are you to nominate me for an award. I'll come over and visit to check it out! ;)

Thanks! I have to make myself laugh a little bit because much of this just infuriates me. And Kelsey and Walter! I miss them...did you convert them to Facebook addiction?

I know, we will get past it but I feel sometimes like I'm listening to the same bad song on repeat and it frustrates me. I get really mad when candidates are allowed to duck and dodge and not answer questions straightforwardly. I think Barbara Walters asks tougher questions and better follow-ups in her celebrity specials!

No, never bitter, right? I mean, Hillary Clinton's feelings are hurt because of the about the feelings of countless black women who had to endure knowing "Tip Drill" was on BET Uncut every single night, who get ignored when we turn up missing...okay, I will just leave it at that, but yeah, I came back to the US right before the OJ verdict and the vibe of all this reminds me of that time a bit.

Oh yes, everyone wants to know how black voters will respond...but how about ask how white voters are gonna respond? Or Asian voters? You notice nobody says anything about Asian voters? What's up with that!

I hope Obama can bring it but if he wins, I imagine the man's gonna be gray before the end of his first term in office. But if we can get some real healing out of all this, how beautiful would it be.
the last noel said…
We're in a race war? Why didn't anyone tell me? I guess, I have to end my friendships with my best friend (black), her son/my god son (half-Irish), my ex-boyfriend (Jewish), ignore both my neighbors (latino), stop paying my landlady (latina), stop going to my dry cleaners (Armenian), stop getting my gas (Arab), stop teaching my students (a rainbow), stop working in downtown (another rainbow). If there is a race war in Los Angeles, I'm f'd. I have no where to go and nothing to do.
Liz Dwyer said…
Another day has passed and we're still alive! Can you believe it? We're surviving the race war!

Seriously though, can you imagine not living with those people in your lives and all the beauty their cultures bring to this city? I can't, which is part of the reason I haven't gone back to the Midwest. I know some people like to see folks who are just like them all the time, but I certainly don't.
the last noel said…
Liz, I just can't imagine in this day and age, when France, Kenya, Singapore, Peru is a phonecall, e-mail, IM away that we want to polarize ourselves. I know it happens, but I want to be the change I see in the world--as Ghandi put it.
Anonymous said…
When Hillary made that comment about Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson, she was really comparing Obama to MLK and herself to Johnson. Obama represents hope as did MLK. This was her subtle way of saying that he represents hope, but she is the one who will get the job done. His hope is empty while her leadership is what will make the necessary changes.

What's interesting is that not only is it a comparison based on perceived leadership, but also race. She did diminish King's leadership and his contributions to civil rights through her comment. Her comments afterwards were pure damage control.
I find it comical that people believe that race doesn't matter just because they say so. Race was part of this whole process long before Clinton's remarks. To think otherwise is to engage in delusion. Also the so called race war was declared long ago it is simply asymmetrical. Predatory lending, discrimination in housing, employment, health care, the criminal justice system, and education, police brutality, the epidemic of stress related diseases, the mass medicating and tracking into "special education" of our children, discriminatory implementation of "zero tolerance" policies, nooses popping up all over the country. There's a race war alright, it's against people of color and people of color are losing big time. We have to wake up from this "we are the world" narcotized state and see what is really going on in our country. The politicians are clueless and don't offer an ounce of leadership regarding these issues, not one of them. The propaganda of the so called "post racial" America is a dangerous opiate. This brother refuses to fall asleep.
Kari Carlson said…
oh - i meant to post a comment yesterday, but i think it didn't work.

i have not converted those guys to facebook. but, Walter is retired and more and more web saavy every day. i bet he could be enticed to join!

Keith said…
Oooooh, I like this post. Lots of good questions. I would argue that we are maintaining the status quo right now in terms of race (this is the country of slavery, Jim Crow, Civil Right Era, etc.), and every thing else is a mess.

I'm not sure a meaningful national conversation on race will ever happen in our lifetime.
Liz Dwyer said…
It doesn't make sense for people to continue to advocate any sort of ideology that does not acknowledge that we are, whether we like it or not, moving toward existing as one human family on one planet. Now if the cost of actually traveling to those places went down, I'd be a VERY happy camper. By the way, did I mention how much I'm feeling the new profile picture? Work it out, Noel! Work it out!

I agree, it was damage control. Honesty is the foundation of everything and the lack of honesty, no matter who's dishing the dirt, does a disservice to the efforts of voters to really discern what the candidates are really about. It really says something about character though to not be able to apologize, acknowledge that it was wrong and then make amends. There's just such an attitude that apologizing and then making amends is a sign of weakness.

Gosh you're brilliant. I can't wait to read whatever book you write.

You are 100% right that race has been a part of this since before Obama declared his candidacy. What most recently went down is certainly not the jump-off point for how race has been involved in this. How deep racism goes in the context of this campaign...well, someone could write a dissertation on the internalized racism by itself.

The media is not talking about a "race war" in the same way you are. I think your definition is more appropriate. We just don't think of that as "war" even though that's what it actually is. The media uses very cynical language to suggest that we are all polarized, in our separate corners. Many of us are not. My circle of friends is all very diverse, just as yours is. but the refusal to even let Obama TALK about race and the insistence that he can't talk about race and still remain politically viable is a clear sign that all is not as well as we'd like to think it is. The thing is, in the quest to get elected, Obama is probably selling some of his soul by not talking about race. Then again, let deeds not words be your adorning.

Retired? No way? Oh yeah, you can hook Walter into Facebook, no problem. He's a shoo-in.

What about Mr. Taylor though? He's not retired! :)

Well, remember we were supposed to be having that national conversation after all the Don Imus stuff. Oh wait, after Katrina... Sigh.

But I have faith that the conversation will happen on a wide scale in our lifetimes and that it will be MORE than a conversation. It has to. We can't go on like this for much longer. You can feel it in the world...something has got to give. But in our individual lives we can make the decisions about what we say and do -- we have to model what we want the larger world to do.
I sure hope we're not in a race war because nobody asked me what side I wanted to be on.

You nailed the Truth perfectly with your statement that only Obama is being required to transcend race.

It takes a LOT of stupidity to keep racism alive after hundreds of years, and it's utterly bizarre that whiteness is the default setting when most of the world's people are non-white.

I hope very much that your question gets discussed because it is one of the most important issues facing this country and the world.

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