Tom Foreman | Bio
Are we cowards for not talking more about race?
Attorney General Eric Holder says that is exactly what Americans are for not directly engaging in that thorny issue. His statement has raised a lot of eyebrows from people of all colors, especially considering Holder is the first African-American to hold that position while Barack Obama, just one month ago, became the nation’s first black president.
For many Americans – black, white and otherwise – these are signs of extraordinary progress and it hardly seems the time to be putting on a fresh hair shirt over this issue. There is, after all, that whole economy business. One could argue that the only color we should be worried about at the moment is green.
Holder is certainly right, however, when he says that we remain a largely segregated society. Despite decades of cheerful talk about better days coming, the vast number of our communities tend to be largely monochrome. Sure, you can find places where brave racial explorers have established outposts in neighborhoods where almost everyone else is a different color; you can even find some areas with dazzling mixes of ethnicities, religions, ages, and political views; but towns like that remain rare compared to the size of the country’s population.
Still, despite our bird-like tendency to flock by the feather, the attorney general may be overlooking some important signs of racial progress because of his age.
Holder was born in 1951. I was born eight years later. We’ve both been around long enough to have witnessed some of what sure-enough segregation was about: teachers telling white children to stay away from black children, racial fights raging at bus stops, restaurants where only whites were welcome, older white people openly disparaging black people and the list goes on. It is little wonder the subject remains raw for people over forty.
But younger Americans are a different story. A study by New York’s Hamilton College some years ago found that people born after the civil rights struggle of the 1960’s (which is to say ‘born into a country free of formal racial barriers’) view race in far more relaxed and accepting terms than their parents. Most favored the idea of multi-cultural teaching to reduce racial misconceptions. More than 70 percent said they would consider dating someone of a different race. Almost half said if they adopted a child, the race would not matter. All of that is undeniable progress.
To be sure, America still has real racial problems. The recent history of our prisons, our courts, our politics and social structure all say the Attorney General has a point. But for many younger Americans the change of heart he is after may already be old news.
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