It remains true that an African-American usually has to break the ice in criticizing people of color before the melanin-deprived folks dare do it also in any discussion. That may be technically unfair, but social complexity often is. Because larger groups or majorities are usually oblivious to smaller groups, criticism of the smaller by the larger seems like an attack out of the blue. Canada has fewer people than the US, and is perpetually aware of living in our shadow. Americans are less likely to think of Canadians at all unless the context suggests it. Thus an American initiating critical comments about Canada looks like he's kicking someone for no apparent reason. Canadians are rather expected to complain about America. Everyone gets to pick on California, Texas, and New York City because they’re big. Someone from Texas who blogs about how stupid the people from Rhode Island are, unless she has just been there or grew up there or RI has been in the news, looks petty, somehow.
This gets ambiguous when a person of mixed race is running for president and makes his race a primary focus of his campaign. If he says that we need to have a conversation about race, does that change the social permissions about who can initiate what? Does the permission only apply to himself, or does it include his friends? How about people of color in general? Do they get a say in this, or does Obama’s comment change the rules for everyone?
Politicians love these ambiguities, because it allows them to have things both ways. People who make political decisions based on feelings also like ambiguities. They get to ignore content except where it is convenient, and operate on the basis of seemings – of what feels fair. People who rely on the content of words are just screwed. They try to rely on what has been said, and can’t understand why everyone else keeps “missing the point,” and the national conversation keeps going elsewhere.
With this in mind, Jamal McCoy’s essay over at Stop Barack Obama is well worth reading. He analyzes African-American preaching and public speaking with insights I had missed. An extremely perceptive gentleman, who really is speaking truth to power. Heh.
I’ll comment later, starting with kicking some white people, in the spirit of fair play.
(Via Classical Values)