- - Sunday, December 7, 2014



Shortly after the Jan. 20, 2009, inauguration of America’s first black president — which I attended, receiving high-fives from strangers, many of whom were black, and even a free cup of hot coffee from a giddy black woman as I, a white man, strolled through Northeast Washington, D.C., without fear — a friend and I took our teenage daughters to a rock show in Baltimore.

After we dropped them off, we went looking for a pool hall to while away the hours. Google Maps took us to one, but when we got there, I had immediate doubts. “Steve,” I said to my friend, “we can’t go here. This is a black place.” But Steve, in a bold Cosby sweater, said, “Nuh uh. We can. That’s what the election was all about. They can come to our pool halls, and we can go to theirs.”

So we did. And while we were eyeballed for a few seconds when we walked in by a dozen or so black billiardiers, it was all good. One fellow pool shooter even complimented me on a particularly tough shot — we weren’t white or black there, we were just guys who love shooting pool. And our money was green, just like theirs, so the owner was happy to have us.

But already, I’ve gone too far. Whenever the topic of race comes up, it’s always like that Seinfeld episode when Elaine’s dating a guy Jerry thinks is black. “Should we be talking about this?” George asks. “I think it’s OK,” Elaine says. “I really don’t think we’re supposed to be talking about this,” says George.

That was 16 years ago and it still resonates. White people are never sure what they can talk about and what they can’t. Unlike Chris Rock, a black comedian who two years earlier had gone on an amazing tirade.

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“There’s a lot of racism going on. Who’s more racist, black people or white people? It’s black people! You know why? Because we hate black people, too! Everything white people don’t like about black people, black people really don’t like about black people And there’s two sides, there’s black people and there’s niggas … I love black people, but I hate niggas!” he said.

At the end of the routine, he jokes about claims that the media is to blame for the bad image of some. “When I go the money machine at night, aight, I ain’t looking over my back for the media — I’m looking for niggas!” he said as the mostly black crowd howled.

President Obama has been asked repeatedly of late if there has been “progress.” Note the irony in that. America’s first black president being asked about whether the U.S. has made progress on racism. And think about this: When Mr. Obama leaves office, every kid under 8 years old — millions of them — will never have known an America without a black president.

Mr. Obama’s answers to the question on progress, while leaving a bit to be desired, are some of the most honest of his presidency.

He talks about distrust between minority communities and law enforcement (a very real thing) while also condemning the rampant rioting and looting that has gone on since white policemen have been cleared of wrongdoing in the deaths of unarmed black Americans, including a 12-year-old boy who was holding a toy gun.

He says the problem “will not be solved overnight,” that racism “is deeply rooted in our society deeply rooted in our history.” All true.

And he’s absolutely spot on when he says: “If you talk to your parents, your grandparents, they’ll tell you things are better. Not good in some cases, but better.” Not a ringing endorsement of change, exactly, but honest and reflective of reality.

Unfortunately, many feel Mr. Obama has fallen short of his promise to deliver a post-racial presidency (of course, as in so many other ways, Candidate Obama over-promised there). More than half, 53 percent, think race relations are worse now than before he took office, according to a Bloomberg poll. Just 9 percent said it had gotten “a little” or “a lot” better.

For the record, the police officers in the cases that left three unarmed black men dead should all have proceeded to trial — all of them. Secret grand juries deciding not to charge government agents — as police officers no doubt are — is un-American. And, frankly, scary.

But the good thing is: We’re talking about it. Openly. Sometimes even joking about it. Not the deaths, not the bad cops, but racism itself. For most white Americans, racism is a thing of the past — at least for them. They (we) didn’t enslave blacks, that was someone else a long, long time ago. Many hipster teens now listen to rap music, and even sing out the multiple N-words in, say, a Jay-Z song. Most whites not only want to move forward, they already have.

And Mr. Rock has a special take on that point, on racism and progress, which he calls “nonsense,” at least in the sense that blacks have progressed.

“There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress,” he said.

And for once, we can give a little chuckle — and not feel like this is something we really shouldn’t be talking about.

Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @josephcurl.

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