JPLs Bobby Nelson, fresh off the victory by senior lab employees over wacko, un-American government intrusion into their private lives, has long been involved in area and national politics.
He recalls working on the Jesse Jackson presidential campaigns in 1984 and 88, and the failure to establish much of an interesting, non-personality-driven national dialogue on race. I think thats probably because Jackson was rightly or wrongly a divisive character himself note that no candidate this year, so far as I know, has exactly sought out his endorsement. His views, his past, his rhetoric, his womanizing I once saw him corner a beautiful young girl backstage in the John Muir High School auditorium, and a fine piece of work it was were too easy to caricature.
And Nelson remembers what I had certainly forgotten: President Bill Clintons effort, first put forward in a commencement address at UC San Diego in June 1997, to formally establish such a national dialogue. In the speech he announced the creation of an advisory panel that spent a year holding town meetings around the country and then released a report, One America in the 21st Century: Forging a New Future, which included suggestions for helping to eliminate ongoing discrimination based on race in America.
Right. That one caused quite a kerfuffle. Race-wise, everything turned into a big beautiful rainbow coalition after that landed with a thud on our desks.
To be fair, I would probably say the same thing about most any report, however well meaning, that came out of a national commission. Im not so sure we solve problems through reports. In fact, I propose a ban on national commissions on anything.
Informal national dialogues conversations, more like are a good thing, though. They start up for random reasons, not by decree. Sen. Barack Obamas speech on race Tuesday night had to be given because of the outrage over his former pastors racial stands. And now its started not only a national but an international dialogue, thanks to its instantaneous availability on the Internet. I heard a Lebanese intellectual on the radio Thursday saying that the Obama speech was the talk of Beirut. He noted that something like 15 percent of those in the Arab world have sub-Saharan African roots. Ive seen it, and on the surface at least there is a more relaxed attitude toward race in Arab countries than there is in the West. But the Beiruti said that this surface sheen masks real issues of class and discrimination that mostly go undiscussed.
So I agree with Bobby, and with Obama lets discuss them. Lets talk among ourselves, and at the dinner table, and in the office and the classroom and the public square. Howre we doing, America, on the race thing, which the sin of slavery made a subject that will never go away? Lets write into the papers, and post on the blogs, with thoughts and stories. Have you had a religious or cultural figure in your past, like Obamas Rev. Jeremiah Wright, with whom you might disagree about race but whose out-there views you learned from? Can you still be close with friends or family whose racial views differ markedly from your own? Is Wright all the way out to lunch, or does he make sense to you? Should Obama have repudiated him more fully?
Lets have a little talk. Ill be happy to print your take on race in this space.