Curtain Raiser

When We Talk About Race, Colltalers

The national conversation about racism has now reached a segment that’s enjoyed Americans’ undivided attention, and cash, for over a century: the entertainment industry. Given the billions it generates, it’s only natural that it too be involved, even if reluctantly.
It is about time a healthy dose of racial discomfort would be added to the stiff ticket prices we pay to be comfortably numb by pop culture. Not that it’s the first time a parade of the precious and the well healed would trip all over themselves to look engaged.
But neither it’s a question whether it adds up to the discussion. As the home of the sequined and land of show business, we find easier to acknowledge oppression as a motion-picture, or hit song, first, and then, as the messy reality we have to live through daily.
Be it as it may, though, that also gives us insight into one of art’s noblest functions: turning an eye towards injustice, even if it’s in the form of a over-produced song and dance number. It’s as much on our DNA as our delusions of grandeur or addiction to escapism.
Thus last night’s Oscar show, apart from its arrogant self-importance, may have indeed moved the needle closer to an acceptable north in racial relations in this country, even if exactly for everything it wasn’t and hasn’t been all these years: a critical mirror to society.
Well, it shouldn’t be, not in itself anyway; staggering dollar amount, and respectable reach around the world, notwithstanding, it’s just an award ceremony, not a celebration of life, happiness, and the pursuit of sponsored dreams. Not for the majority anyway.
We are going through, in fact, one of the necessary stages of acceptance. This time, it has to do with a simple reality: much of U.S.’s wealth, and position in the world today, were built in the broken backs of black slaves, as it was in most of Europe and its colonies too. We’re past due overcoming this historical thorn that splits us apart, in the best, most morally reaffirming way.
So there are excesses that need to play on, and misguided expectations that now, all of a sudden, the ‘black issue’ has to be answered with honest-to-god sincerity, by all strata of society, and racial

justice restored without hesitation. Now, now, now.
It won’t happen, of course, and in the end, it’d be irrelevant for the future, as there are much more urgent, immediate, crucially essential quests about racial equality and social opportunity, that should take precedence over pro-forma speeches and posturing.
Shoving the issue on every face and context however is valid, and can not be dismissed. Chris Rock’s brilliant job may become a dot in a sea of more resonant periods and punctuations about black power, but it’ll be still a necessary dot to be pontificated.
Racism, or the ongoing struggle to bring it to the fore of public debate in America, is also a catalyst to address and hopefully solve other grave issues. It offers a multilayer way of seeing our growing pains as a nation, far from a mere black and white dilemma.
For when an unarmed black kid is shot by police, there’s the immediate level of the tragedy, of a lost or crippled life, and its impact on the fabric from which it flourished, and there’s the institutional level, of race and law enforcement running amok. And more.
The same about the growing number of U.S. prisons, ever more populated by people of color, even as overall crime figures have declined. That’s an indictment of our justice system, and a contextual flaw that’s improperly picking social groups to play losers.
Race’s apparent quagmire has so many implications, from urban challenges such as housing and community-building strategies, to open and affordable education, to social opportunity, accessible jobs to minorities, integration, and so on, that only a fool, or supremacist- and intolerant-inclined, not to realize that the woes and ills affecting one particular group, affect society as a whole.
We’ve come a long way since the 1960s, and not nearly long enough, when it comes to civil rights in general, and race relations in particular. But even with little patience for history’s glacial pace, it’s not a coincidence that it’s again being debated with passion: after all, without any undue credit to him, such a renewed debate does have African-American President Obama’s fingerprints all over it.
The issue has also produced a curious situation in the campaign to choose his successor: Bernie Sanders, the candidate with a long, recorded track of fighting for civil rights has somehow underestimated a crucial tenet of American politics, the black vote.
He may have unwittingly handed that constituency, and potentially the race, to Hillary Clinton, despite running an inspiring campaign, rooted on idealistic views of socialism, and galvanized by a progressive, and enthusiastic, segment of die-hard supporters.
Sanders’ oversight – of which Republican candidates have become specialists – may have been fatal to his ambitions, as he was crushed by Clinton Saturday in South Carolina, and may see her clinching the Democratic nomination in tomorrow’s Super Tuesday.
For all their deranged clamor for ‘making America great again,’ or ‘bringing back our country’ (which is a clear reference to a black president), what white, racist America fails to realize is the importance to world peace of having a frank conversation about race.
What here’s, summarily, about white privilege, black oppression, and immigrant discrimination, everywhere else is about the principle that no ethnic group should have institutional dominance over any other, and some kind of democratic rule of law to go along with it.
That involves way more than a list of racial conflicts around the world, for sure, some predating the Common Era, others as a result of wars of conquest (Iraq invasion anyone?), stealing of natural resources, and so on. But with no diversity (a term that’s quickly turning into a cliche), and cross-pollination, miscegenation even, no center will hold, no matter how powerful its seams.
So here’s an idea: four years from now, in the next Leap Year, we’ll be engaging in yet another presidential campaign, and it’s a sure bet to guess that race will still be a central theme. But maybe we’ll be then discussing not equanimity in the rarefied and exclusive entertainment world, but where most people actually live: in communities, workplaces, schools, and law enforcement conflicts.
There also a chance that, by then, we may have just had a Madam President for the first time, and again, having one in the White House will still require everyone to fight for their rights and to consolidate their presence on all battlefields of society.
For it’s either all black lives matter, or no one matters at all; every woman is paid equally, or there’s no sense in calling ours a nation of equality values. Each gender and race is treated with dignity, or we’re asking for the cruel Amerika to occupy our land.
If at every four years, we need a full day to synch time in the calendar, every single day is needed to have a fulfilling lifetime. Happy Birthday to those lucky enough to have it coming around not too often, and enjoy the new March ahead. WC


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