I thought I’d share a reflection I had over at Cobb’s website today. The question: what’s happened to all the dialogue? It seems the energy of VisionCircle is alive and well.
Cobb wrote (in part): “From the black side there is a very powerful disincentive, or taboo against, confiding in whitefolks about the presence of racism. I think the notable exception to this is when Jews start the conversation in a particular way. If a nominally white person outs himself as a Jew, unprompted to a black person and talks about racism, I think a strong bridge is built.”
“a very powerful disincentive…”
And what is that “powerful disincentive”? Well, James Baldwin edict still stands…to whom can you reveal your ‘constant state of rage’? Baldwin remarked that to be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage. (I haven’t been able to track down the specific source for the quote. Work for another time and place.)
And what is that constant state of rage about? What is it’s genesis and resolution? When you have no answers and are ill-equipped, you can take the path that Ms. McClain took in Chicago. You can take the path that Tookie Williams chose in LA. You can take the path of despair and hopelessness. Still…these choices are fundamentally the same in that each reflects a SUBMISSION to a dynamic that precedes and supercedes the power of individuals to transform.
Making a different set of choices and stepping out on faith is a two-way street. When black people are willing to confess two things: our constant stage of rage and our collective contingency (ie, relative powerlessness) the dialogue cannot ensue until white folks make a parallel confession – fear of reprisals (Thomas Jefferson said it three centuries ago) and knowledge of culpability (give up the “my ancestors did this” game because it’s as fake as a $3 bill). It’s one thing to dismiss slavery as ancient history…it’s quite another to dismiss your father’s union job in an all-white union which paid for your suburban home and public school and Berkeley/Stanford education. It’s absolutely different to ignore the many intergenerational non-compete agreements authored by white labor from 1865 through 1965. How did you come to have what you have? Do you want to know? Have you ever asked? Somethings may be better left unsaid. The truth shall make you free – or something like that.
These confessions, by the way are not forthcoming on the personal level because human beings would rather skirt the conflict of revelation and relate at a superficial level. If Americans are really honest with themselves, they’ll see this society really doesn’t have that capacity for self-reflection. I don’t know (through experience) of a nation that does – but the US does not.
American institutions (schools, media, government, businesses, etc.) have never dealt with the ugly truths in a systematic way. Compare the US treatment of slavery with the Post WWII treatment of the Nazi era in Germany. There is no comparison. The US continues to harbor, finance and sustain intellectuals, artists, ideologues and others who harbor sentiments directly derived from the outdated racialist doctrines. Many of these people are in influential policy circles and they operate with little scrutiny and tactical immunity.
With respect to our missed conversations, we say that we don’t have time for anything else. And the paradox is that people are spending more and more time having cell phone conversations about absolutely nothing. Real conversation comes with a price…intimacy, vulnerability and choice…after we disclose – we get to choose what new type of relationship we will have. And that won’t be easy either.