Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Racial Lingering in Iowa (U.S.)?

By Hiram José Irizarry Osorio, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

There has been some discussion and media coverage based on a “racially loaded” set of questions John Edwards was asked last Friday December 14th from an “elderly White man” in Iowa (read “The Obama racial subtext surfaces in Iowa”). The focus has been somehow to underscore that that “elderly White man” from Iowa represents the racialized subtext of the U.S. population.

I would prefer to approach the coverage of the incident differently.

How about focusing on an honest (or striving for an honest) conversation on issues of race in the U.S.?

The “elderly White man” from Iowa honestly asked a question about an issue that was (or had been) bothering him and John Edwards answered, while still contesting the man’s implicit racial implications.

The conversation was not perfect, because it cannot be. We cannot have a perfect, ideal conversation surrounding race in the U.S. within an imperfect environment; an environment loaded with racial taboos. These taboos can only be unearthed through honest and continuous conversations (not through accidental conversations alone).

It is the same thing (and it is connected to) when we talk about democracy. A vigorous, vibrant democracy cannot rely SOLELY on voting every now and then. Voting is a democratic act, but it has to be cultivated. Furthermore, a democracy is not SOLELY voting. Voting is an expression of a process based on discussions, conversations, debates, proposals that should expand time and space. These discussion, conversations, debates, proposals could be “interrupted” once in a while for all citizens to vote, but the process needs to (and it will) proceed.

My point is not if that “elderly White man” from Iowa was a racist or not. My point is to focus our energies and attention on promoting this sort of open dialogues regarding issues of race (and beyond) for them to occur more often, for them to become more vibrant, for them to include different “racial” groups into the discussion, while feeling safe and comfortable. Nevertheless, this is not something that we can just wish. We need to make it happen. We need to act upon it. Thus, in the meantime it might not be that comfortable for anyone of us, but it is something that is worth striving for, if we really want a vibrant, healthy, and just democratic society.

What we do know is that talking about the “race”, however unpleasant, is of utmost necessity to unearth troubled feelings and perceptions and to be able to walk the walk toward social (racial) justice. Not publicly discussing these sort of issues would be (and has been) detrimental. Thus, what should we do? What do you think?


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