If there’s one thing that’s become abundantly clear this 2008, it’s that America isn’t ready for any “dialogue on race.”
As anyone with access to cable television knows, CNN, in about 2.5 weeks (July 23 and 24, Wednesday and Thursday respectively) is airing a “Black in America” special (video here) promising to reveal the entirety of the black experience.
It will be interesting to see America’s response to all of this. After the Wright/Pfleger fiasco and the often over-the-top response to it from the Right — not to mention how Obama’s patriotism and love for America remains a doubt in voters’ minds — I question whether America isn’t “done” with race for the moment, and whether re-engaging a dialogue on race won’t hurt race relations — but also the Obama candidacy — in the end.
CNN’s non-scientific poll on the main page of the Black in America website reveals that 84% of “Americans” — not “likely voters,” but Americans — are fine with having a black president. I’d believe that. I’d believe it even if CNN were tracking “likely voters.”
Obama’s success thus far has addressed my doubts that Americans would vote for a black man. But if white Americans come to believe that it’s expected they vote Obama — or that their supposed racism will be scapegoated for an Obama loss — well, that might be quite the turnoff.
By November we will have had the Wright/Pfleger controversy; Obama’s speech on race; questions about Obama’s patriotism; stories about white Americans who believe Obama represents a “change” too great; discussed Black Liberation theology; and will have “learned about what it’s like to be Black in America — and then be expected to vote for a black man in the poll booth. Add to that the fact that, in many peoples’ eyes (consciously or unconsciously), Barack Obama is speaking for all of black America every time he opens his mouth, and this may all be too much for the country to deal with. A blackout, if you will.
The CNN special seems to operate from the premise that if we could just get everyone in the room, and tell them the same story at the same time, they’ll see things differently. This tactic failed in Obama’s mid-March “race speech” in Philadelphia, which was thoughtful, and eloquent, but ultimately only meaningful to those who already agreed and widely (and, often, willfully) misunderstood by those who didn’t.
Will CNN do any better to illuminate us? Time will tell. I will watch, and will probably be pleasantly surprised by the depth of the coverage. But I have a bad feeling that we’re reaching saturation point vis-a-vis race-talk in America for a while.