Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States, recently made a speech to honor Black History Month.
It wasn’t a barn-burner and it might never have made the news had he not said:
"Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards."
He followed that with:
"Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial.”
This column will not be a shot at the “nation of cowards” line. That was a poor choice of words in a time when it doesn’t even take a spark to start a firestorm. Too, talking about race is tough - especially in these times when any disagreement with the “politically correct” outlook is likely to turn into nothing more than finger-pointing and a lot of harsh words aimed mainly at having one side endlessly admit its “guilt” for, seemingly, now and forever more.
Any wonder, then, as to why most people prefer to avoid the subject whenever they can?
And, if you know someone of another race, it’s an even tougher minefield to wander into unless you are very close friends and, by “close,” I mean those you feel completely comfortable being around at any time. Those with whom you can speak of anything without the fear of losing their friendship.
It takes time to develop something like that. It takes shared experiences, good times together, hurt feelings, jokes, laughter, embarrassment, and, sometimes, tears shed on shoulders.
It takes a certain knowledge that you will be given (and will also give) leeway for dumb behavior that would have others walking away forever.
It takes the willingness to accept the fact that when you do such dumb things, you’re likely to be read the riot act by them in order to maintain, rather than end, a friendship.
Such friendships are special and they often start when least expected.
You meet someone at a lunch counter. You join a foursome for a round of golf. You sit next to someone on a long flight. You stand, wet and dripping, next to another parent on the sidelines of some game that your kids are playing.
You share a few words and something clicks. Common ground is found. Similar tastes come out. True, that “click” may never go much beyond casual banter and the occasional night out. However, it can also mark the beginning of getting to know someone for a lifetime and for whom you’d wade into hell.
The thing is, if you add race to the equation, it might take a bit longer for such a friendship to develop.
That’s because, in addition to all of the other quirks and foibles that have to be accepted, tolerated, or overcome, you also have to get past decades of history. You have to tune out a small but loud and angry portion of the gene pool - the doubters, the bigots and haters, the nut jobs and the clowns with the ever present chip on their shoulders.
You have to develop a willingness to change beliefs, toss out myths, and challenge stereotypes.
You have to reach a point where you’ve simply come to truly care about an individual - warts and all. The funny thing is, when you reach that point, the topic of race really doesn’t matter any more. That person is simply Joe or Jane or Frank who happens to be funny, smart, clumsy, frugal, quiet, right-handed, a Yankee fan, an awful cook, and - oh, yeah - (fill in the color).
As a minor aside, something I know for sure is that none of above will ever come from any “feel good” government program or any call by our “betters” for a “national dialogue.” That’s because such things are stilted, scripted, and artificial at best and a bunch of bovine excrement at worst.
The good thing is that, as individuals, we’re headed in the right direction. We are interacting socially. Close friendships have and will continue to develop.
And one sure sign that we’re moving on as a nation is the fact that the current president of the United States is a man named Barack Obama - who just happens to be black.
I didn’t vote for him simply because I disagreed with many of his ideas. However, a lot of people of a lot of different colors did.
Sorry, but “a nation of cowards” couldn't do any of the above.
Not in a thousand years.
Kind of makes you feel good when you stop and think about it.