Mr. Diplomacy

There is quite a ruction today about Attorney General Eric Holder’s calling America “a nation of cowards” for its reticence to speak frankly about race (transcript here). I wonder what he really means, and what he really wants. At the very least, it seems a tad atrabilious for the nation’s first black attorney general — who serves under the nation’s first black president, at a time when the leaders of both major parties are black men as well — to greet his new constituency so charmlessly.

He is right that most people are reluctant to speak much about race, particularly on the Left; indeed the prevailing attitude there seems to be that even to acknowledge that the term refers to anything real is grossly inappropriate. We have had a great many boffins and pundits assure us that the concept of race is, biologically speaking, a fiction, an atavistic cultural artifact — and so harsh is the opprobrium directed at anyone who dares to suggest otherwise that decent people just try to get along with everyone and keep their mouths shut. The fact is that race relations are as good as they are in this country because a great many people, on both sides, are bending over backward to say as little as possible. That is more “brave” and “honorable” than cowardly, I think. Most people genuinely hope someday to live in a society where race really isn’t an issue at all — I know I certainly do — but that will be a state of affairs utterly unexampled in all of human history, and while we have come a very long way, we aren’t there yet. Sometimes things go along more smoothly when people don’t say everything they think.

Does Mr. Holder really want a completely frank discussion of race? Does he want to hear not only from those who point out that there are still lingering racial inequities in America, but also from those who think race is real, that it is a natural factor in human relations, and relevant to any honest assessment of our society’s prospects? If there are indeed inherent and quantifiable statistical distinctions of various sorts and in various directions that can be made between racial groups, does he want to hear about those as well? Does he want to hear about the frequency, and asymmetrical tolerance, of anti-white racism amongst black people? I wonder.

We’ll see where this goes. At the very least, people are talking, so Mr. Holder might get what he wishes for. And as a philosophical sort, I’m always in favor of getting at the truth. But it may complicate things: we all still do need to get along, after all, and a willingness to leave a thought or two unexpressed can lubricate the works a bit.

P.S. I almost titled this post “The Audacity of Swope”, but I was too darn cowardly.

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6 Comments

  1. JK says

    I wonder if Mr. Holder has an opinion here.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29286925/

    Posted February 20, 2009 at 3:14 am | Permalink
  2. the one eyed man says

    Have some cojones, Mac! Why not pay homage to Putney Swope, aka the Greatest Movie Ever Made?

    Posted February 20, 2009 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    I’ve already explained, Pete! Pure cowardice – I was trying to be civil, and it seemed unduly inflammatory (Swope was, after all, a janitor). Mighty good title, though.

    Posted February 20, 2009 at 11:57 am | Permalink
  4. PDG says

    The Borman 6 girl has got to have soul!-

    BTW I think Swope was on the board of directors and got the chairmanship as the “cop-out” vote… The guy who no-one thought anyone else would vote for…

    And Holder can kiss my lilly white ass- That n-word is just too uppity says I…As a victim of the KKK – I know not all whites -(nor blacks) can be lumped together – ‘cept in very small minds!

    but at least the pot is being stirred…

    Posted February 23, 2009 at 5:10 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Hi Pat,

    You’re right: Swope was on the board. In a comment to a previous post I had said I thought he was the janitor (which slip probably is more grist for Mr. Holder’s mill).

    Posted February 23, 2009 at 5:54 pm | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    Two things I learned from Putney Swope: never expose yourself to the Rockettes, and always wish for a trip on Lucky Airlines.

    Posted February 23, 2009 at 6:15 pm | Permalink