Jimmy Carter is 85 years old. Dave Letterman is 62, Nancy Pelosi is 69, Maureen Dowd is 57, and Al Sharpton is 54.
These are the people – and theirs is the generation – who are teaching America’s youth how to be racist in 2009. They are very good instructors.
Whether it’s Carter’s insistence that “an overwhelming portion” of the opposition to Obama is racist, or it’s Dowd declaring “Some people just can’t believe a black man is president,” or it’s Pelosi’s feigned crocodile tears over the “language being used,” or it’s Letterman baiting the president into a race discussion, each one of them is telling my generation and the ones that follow that race is merely a political weapon of expedience, to be used haphazardly and crudely simply to get what you want. As long as there is a convenient victim to prop up, some kind of imagined target of the hood-donning right, it doesn’t matter if the racism is real or perceived. It just matters that it’s effective.
And it used to be. Race was always a hot-button topic in this country, and it still is. But the sharpness of that threat has been dulled a bit. Thanks to the inarguable success of the civil rights movement, my generation, the 20- and 30-somethings, didn’t grow up encumbered by the aggressive identity politics of the 60s and 70s, or the kind of rhetoric that made white people scared to talk about race, and men scared to talk about gender.
So my generation isn’t so easily intimidated by discussions of race, because we were raised in a climate that was much less hostile toward them. And that should be a good thing, the unmitigated result of equality and justice, the mark of progress. We talk about race in blunt and unthreatening terms when race is an issue. And when it isn’t an issue, well, we don’t pretend it is.
Not so with the aging liberal cognoscenti, which, as of late, would be better labeled the “ignoscenti” for some of the baffling oddities they’ve uttered. For them, race is simply everywhere. It is hanging from the trees and falling from the sky. It’s in the air, in the water, it is both viscous and fluid, and permeates every willing orifice of every fertile sponge. The Sharptons and Dowds and Carters and Lettermans have decided that they’re not quite ready to live in the post-race America they effervesced about so dreamily and giddily during the presidential campaign. And why not? Because, as it turns out, living in a “racist America” is much more useful to them.
Instead of discussing Obama’s plans for health care reform, immigration, foreign policy or the economy on their merits (or demerits, as it were), graying liberal finger-pointers have discovered it’s so much easier to simply play the race card. So any opposition to the president’s initiatives – which are frightening enough without projecting an imagined veil of racism onto them – quickly elicits throaty screams of “racism!” with the hope that all their enemies will scurry back into their caves, shamed into hiding by the tenured, holier-than-thou professors of race politics who are still clinging to their 1965 textbooks.
And some of them do scurry back into their caves, chastised and ridiculed. But I'd bet every time they weren't from my generation. We don’t take the scurrilous accusations levied at a Joe Wilson, or a tea partier or a town hall seriously – because they’re not. They are quite simply preposterous. And so, as we are wont to do, we point and laugh instead, throwing our heads back in bemusement at the old establishment fogies who’ve yet to enter the 21st century.
Race-baiting is so five minutes ago, we tell them – but it falls on deaf (or at least hearing-impaired) ears. No matter, they’re hoping that the old-school racializing of everything and anything (did Joe Wilson say “boy,” like Maureen Dowd said?! Gasp!) will come back into fashion. It won’t. Because my generation is the first that isn’t willing to go gentle into that good night, intimidated and threatened by Al Sharpton’s erratic dry-heaving or Maureen Dowd’s shrill lectures, or Jimmy Carter’s see-through sanctimony. I know they really, really want us to take them and their lunatic accusations of racism seriously, but we're rebelling instead. Better get used to it. It's all just part of the aging process.
The unfortunate thing is that racism is real. Racism does still exist here in America. I've seen it with my own eyes. And every time Nancy Pelosi or David Paterson or David Letterman pretends it lives somewhere it doesn’t, it makes it all the more difficult to find out where it actually does. So thanks, baby boomer liberals, for coming so far and trying to bring us with you. I think we’ll get off this train though. No one my age wants to go where you’re going: Back in time.