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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Race still our most polarizing issue

    The recent news about AIG handing out millions in taxpayer dollars has been anything but good news for the Washington elite. Revelations that key government officials knew months beforehand have only turned the fire into an inferno. While everyone on Capitol Hill runs for cover, one man has received more than he could have asked for.

    If not for the continued chaos of the financial meltdown, newly appointed Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. would have been subject to countless attacks, but his political salvation is part of America’s social procrastination. Two weeks ago, Holder made comments that drew an initial outcry, but have since flown under the radar. Referring to America’s approach to matters of race, Holder claimed we are a “”nation of cowards.”” Instead of rebuking Holder’s claim, President Barack Obama said that he “”would have used different language.”” This in itself displays the essence of Holder’s premise. The problem is not what Holder meant, it’s how he said it.

    Yet, for how many have passionately responded, the reactions have been consistent with Holder’s claim. The cowardice toward race manifests itself in two polarized ways: an oversensitive reactionary mechanism or a sense of superficial, dismissive progress. The former is exhibited by many who consider themselves liberal or left-of-center. This tendency includes claims of racism in popular media, often focused on supposed Freudian slips or implicit messages of discrimination. The latter can be attributed to conservative pundits who have caricatured Obama as a celebrity and token civil rights achievement.

    Last month, the New York Post published a cartoon depicting a chimpanzee being shot by police, while one of them says, “”They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.””

    This cartoon caused an uproar from countless groups and individuals, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, claiming that this racist cartoon depicts Obama as a chimpanzee. For those uninformed, a pet chimpanzee recently went on a rampage, ending with a police shootout. Like many others who had knowledge of this incident before viewing the cartoon, I immediately recognized the cartoon as a combination of two utterly separate news stories molded into a single commentary.

    However, there remains a large section of people who adamantly identify this cartoon as a racist depiction of President Obama. Never mind the fact that the stimulus bill required countless advisers and legislators to author it; any drawing of a chimpanzee must be a racial Freudian slip. The notion that any potential reference to race, no matter how drawn out, is jumped upon illustrates our oversensitive cowardice. Instead of analyzing the reasons we immediately cry “”racism.”” An out-of-control chimpanzee is a reasonable metaphor for a Congress that many think are on an unprecedented, out-of-control spending rampage.

    On the opposite end of spectrum, many conservative pundits have pounced on Holder’s statement and dismissed the supposed lack of racial progress. Instead of cowardice, these individuals have shown a willingness to discuss issues of race, while using superficial and illogical evidence. Steven Tawney, a writer for the American Pundit blog, apparently doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about: “”Our attorney general is black, both major parties are led by black men, the president is black.”” I’m glad that the American struggles with race have been aided by the ascension of several black men to powerful positions. Yes, having a black president is historic, but one man’s unparalleled achievement does not counterbalance centuries of slavery, oppression and racism.

    Ron Christie, one-time policy adviser to George W. Bush, condemned Holder’s raising of race issues as “”wrong and very insulting.”” Just like explaining the birds and the bees to a young child, I guess talking about race can always wait until tomorrow. Instead of tiptoeing around sensitive subjects like parents do with children, our leaders need to show the respect that adults deserve. Those unwilling to face controversy or their own subconscious prejudices have every right to avoid the discussion, but the objections of the few should not hinder the progress of masses who hope to confront race head on.

    The myriad of responses from both sides has illustrated just what Holder claimed. We have not prepared ourselves properly for racial discourse in mainstream media. President Obama’s election has wrongfully convinced countless numbers that our racial divide is fading away, leaving many satisfied with where we are. While there has clearly been progress, we are still at the base of the mountain and we need to start climbing soon.

    Daniel Sotelo is a political science junior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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