August 30th, 2010
09:49 AM ET

Letters to the President #588: 'On Race: Two Roads Diverge'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

A view of the crowd at Glenn Beck's 'Restoring Honor' rally Saturday in Washington. (PHOTO CREDIT: Simon Hernandez-Arthur /CNN)

A view of the crowd at Glenn Beck's 'Restoring Honor' rally Saturday in Washington. (PHOTO CREDIT: Simon Hernandez-Arthur /CNN)

Reporter's Note: President Obama has often talked about the need for our nation to engage the issue of race. Although I don’t suppose the shenanigans in DC this weekend is what he had in mind.

Dear Mr. President,

Of course, you know what happened in downtown DC this weekend: Conservative talk host, Glenn Beck, held a massive rally on the spot of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and a liberal counter rally was organized to accuse him of hijacking black history. I haven’t wasted much time thinking about the whole circus, but I have been thinking about this notion of race once again. And that has me thinking about my wife and driving.

In the past couple of years for reasons that escape my comprehension, my wife has developed a habit she never really had before, to wit: She tells me how to drive. All the time. I’m not talking behind her back. This is widely known in our family and amuses the kids no end, because I am at least as skilled at driving as she is, and some might say I’m considerably more cautious. I certainly leave more room between me and the car ahead than she does, as my fingerprints pressed into the passenger side dashboard will attest. And her lane-changing bravado is enough to make me wake up nights screaming. By comparison, Danica Patrick is a patzer.

Her advice is not bad. It usually consists of things like, “I think you should be in the next lane because we’re going to have to turn in four miles.” Or “The traffic over there is going much faster. Maybe you should move.” Or “Well, I knew this would happen if you came this way.” That last one, btw, frequently pops up about twenty seconds after I am stopped dead in a traffic jam. Thank you, Nostradamus.

Her advice is well intentioned. She is a very good driver. And she knows the roads around our house like an old west tracker knew the paths to the watering hole. It’s just that when we set out for a favorite restaurant, or theater, or pet store, we often disagree on precisely how to get there. Our goal is the same; our sense of what constitutes progress is not.

I think that’s kind of what our country wrestles with sometimes when we talk about progressing toward a color-blind society. On one hand we say we should not judge people by their color, meaning the lessons of a great leader like Martin Luther King should be equally appreciated and owned by us all. By that line of thought, neither black, white, brown nor any other color of citizen should be able to say “He is ours. We alone decide how his message must be understood.”

On the other hand, pretending color does not exist, along with all the layers of meaning that we have attached to it for centuries, is absurd. Any person who is a great hero to a particular group, naturally engenders in them a protective instinct about his message and legacy. To expect them to sit quietly by while another group, which seemingly had little previous attachment to that icon, walks hallowed ground, is asking a lot.

I have always tried to live my life as if color truly does not matter. Given the power, I would say we should have no black heroes or white heroes. Only heroes. We would not decide who is allowed to worship at any particular altar of greatness based on the color of his or her skin; we would ask only that they respect the teachings of the honored soul. But as much as I personally believe in that, I’ve learned that far too many others, both black and white do not see things that way. And even as they profess to be approaching the same destination of a colorblind land, they are not merely traveling there on different paths, but also rebuilding the barricades of race every day, even as they profess to be tearing them down.

Ah well, getting all heavy here. Sorry about that. It’s a tad late and hey, first day of school on Monday for my younger daughter! What fun. I think I told you that we start every school year by blasting the Jackson 5’s “ABC” through the house. What about your girls? Are they back in school yet? Always a big time for any family, so good luck with that.

Call if you get a moment. I’m back in town. Maybe we can grab lunch.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Until we get past the race hate inside our country, other countries will always hate us for spreading false propaganda of a democracy and peace. This can be very dangerous to all of us.

    August 30, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  2. Ronnie

    You speak of "rebuilding the barricades of race every day" – The "barricades" seem to be built primarily internally now – as CNN has shown us with the children (some of them from families who deny any form of racism) who choose white "good" – black "bad") – where does this come from? It took me 78 years to get thru the shame of being "red." But I did get thru it – how many generations will it take for the viewing of different colors bring a neutral reaction? Rhetorical question, of course.
    Do we need a (whatever) race in order to have a scapegoat?Rhetorical question again...just food for thought.

    August 30, 2010 at 10:55 am |