This weekend marks the commemoration of the American born slaves of African decent becoming emancipated people. On June 18th 1865 General Gordon Granger led an army of Union troops into Texas to take possession of the state and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation which had been signed, two and a half years prior. 143 years later, America has seen it’s 1st African descendant President in Barack Obama.
As an African American, undoubtedly there was a sense of pride in seeing someone who identifies with a culture that has been long oppressed become leader of the free world. However, one of my many concerns then is now starting to come to fruition. I did not feel that candidate Barack Obama was prepared to be President, and the failure of his presidency could easily be attributed to his race or at least past rhetoric that was also used to create a state of racial inferiority.
Then this week comes the controversy of Rep. Steve King saying on the G. Gordon Libby radio interview “When you look at this administration, I’m offended by Eric Holder and the President also, their posture. It looks like Eric Holder said that white people in America are cowards when it comes to race,” said King. “And I don’t know what the basis of that is but I’m not a coward when it comes to that and I’m happy to talk about these things and I think we should. But the President has demonstrated that he has a default mechanism in him that breaks down the side of race – on the side that favors the black person.”
Looking at the context of the interview, King was explicitly referring to Obama’s swift condemnation of the Cambridge officer acting “stupidly” toward Professor Skip Gates. Congressman King is right. Obama made a rash decision to condemn the officer, not because he was sticking up for a friend or fellow academic, but rather there has been a history in which black people have felt harassed by police for nothing other than being black and Obama assumed that this was the case in this situation. The irony is in Obama siding with Gates, he himself profiled the situation. Could it be that profiling and stereotyping is indeed innate? We profile, we stereotype because it helps us to make sense of things.
Does stereotyping make us racist? Not necessarily, but the danger comes in letting the stereotype become empirical truth, rather refusing to accept that a stereotype can be wrong. We often jump to the conclusion on race because we have a mistaken belief that we are to be color blind, when truth is it’s as impossible as having a gender blind, or geographic blind society.
Yet in an overly politically correct world, it’s impossible to have an open conversation on race for fear that someone else will be so offended that their head will be cut off and they will forever be branded with the scarlet R of racist.
So maybe in some ways Eric Holder’s sentiment is also right, we do shy away from dealing with race, whether it’s issues with our Presidents, sports teams, sports players, stand up comedians, professors, etc. we don’t like to talk about it because when we do or when someone like Congressman King says “OK let’s talk about race, here’s what I think”, the reaction is fierce, brash, and frequently close minded.
Isaiah McGee is a former Republican State Central Committee member and Mayor Pro-tem of Waukee and President of the African American Business Association. Isaiah is currently a member of the Iowa chapter to the US Civil Rights Commission.
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