Thank God for Barack Obama. Until his "More Perfect Union" speech last Tuesday, it seems it never occurred to anyone that America needed to talk about race.
"Maybe this'll be the beginning of a conversation," Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan proclaimed on "Meet the Press." The Chicago Tribune reported that "many voters, black and white, say they were moved by Obama's speech ... which they see as a long-awaited invitation to begin an honest, calm national dialogue about race." Newspaper editorial boards agree. In the words of the San Diego Union-Tribune: "Prodding Americans to confront their racial differences is, by itself, an accomplishment of historical proportions."
Because so many agree on this brilliant new strategy to heal our national wounds, I can only assume that I'm the one missing something. But when one luminary after another smacks his forehead like someone who forgot to have a V8 in epiphanic awe over the genius of Obama's call for a national conversation on race, all I can do is wonder: "What on Earth are you people talking about?"
"Universities were moving to incorporate the issues Mr. Obama raised into classroom discussions and course work," the New York Times reported within 48 hours of the speech.
Oh, thank goodness Obama fired the starter's pistol in the race to discuss race. Here I'd been under the impression that every major university in the country already had boatloads of courses dedicated to race in America. I'd even read somewhere that professors had incorporated racial themes into classes on everything from Shakespeare to the mating habits of snail darters. I also had some vague memory that these universities recruited black students and other racial minorities, on the grounds that interracial conversations on campus are as important as talking about math, science and literature. A ghost of an image in my mind's eye seemed to reveal African-American studies centers, banners for Black History Month, and copies of books like "Race Matters" and "The Future of the Race" lining shelves at college bookstores.
Were all the corporate diversity consultants and racial sensitivity seminars mere apparitions in a dream? Also disappearing down the memory hole, apparently, were the debates that followed Hurricane Katrina, Trent Lott's remarks about Strom Thurmond, the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas, the publication of "The Bell Curve" and O.J. Simpson's murder trial. Not to mention the ongoing national chatter about affirmative action, racial disparities in prison sentences and racial profiling by law enforcement.