2 men walk into a bar … and have a frank talk about race

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

Not so long ago, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Michael Steele were be­ing hailed as the post-racial hope of our times. But the two black men soon be­came mired in racial muck. Cir­cum­stances cried out for them to meet and have a con­ver­sa­tion about race.

What hap­pened was not a beer sum­mit so much as a Johnny Walker Black talk.

No­to­ri­ous G.O.P. What’s up? We’ve got a prob­lem, Hawaii 5-0. When a right-wing race baiter can get away with doc­tor­ing a video­tape to make a woman like Shirley Sher­rod sound like a bigot, the head of the Repub­li­can Party comes off look­ing like a weak-kneed Stepin Fetchit.

Tell me about it. When the White House pan­ics with­out even see­ing the video and gets Sher­rod fired, the pres­i­dent ends up look­ing like a spine­less Un­cle Tom.

Two broth­ers tarred with one brush stroke. We ought to be driv­ing this con­ver­sa­tion on race, not get­ting run over by it.

How did things go down­hill so fast? Just two years ago, I was kiss­ing white ba­bies all over the coun­try. They were coo­ing “mama,” “dada” “Oba-ma.” Now I’m ac­cused of be­ing in league with the New Black Pan­ther Party and out to kill ev­ery white baby in Amer­ica.

So, to prove he’s not a “re­verse racist,” my evil twin throws the sis­ter un­der the bus?

I gave Sher­rod a per­sonal pres­i­den­tial apol­ogy; vir­tu­ally guar­an­tees her a lu­cra­tive book con­tract. I pulled the sis­ter from un­der the bus and put her in the driver’s seat. Be­sides, peo­ple might even read the book and learn some­thing about the Sher­rod fam­ily legacy of civil rights ac­tivism — in­stead of ev­ery­body act­ing like me and the white peo­ple in my ad­min­is­tra­tion were the only ones who didn’t know about it.

Word on the street is that Barry-O could use a friend — a black friend — to help school him on racial pol­i­tics.

You ap­ply­ing for the job, Mini-Me? You know the NAACP also de­nounced Sher- rod. And the doc­tored video­tape was from a speech she gave at an NAACP con­fer­ence. NAACP Pres­i­dent Ben Jeal­ous ad­mit­ted that his group was “snook­ered,” too.

“Snook­ered?” What kind of word is that? Sounds like Ben could use a black friend, too.

Ev­ery time we talk about race, they ac­cuse us of play­ing the race card.

What do you mean “we”? Just the other day, on “Good Morn­ing Amer­ica,” Ge­orge Stephanopou­los asked whether race gave me a “slim­mer mar­gin for er­ror.” I said: “The hon­est an­swer is yes. It just is.” Then I said: “Barack Obama has a slim­mer mar­gin.” See, I speak up for you, too.

Gee, thanks. But maybe we should stick to speak­ing up for our­selves. Which gives me an idea: Why don’t we have a tele­vised de­bate — not about race, but about free­dom? Race and free­dom are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked, so we’d still be talk­ing about race, by proxy, with­out the spec­ta­cle of black ver­sus white.

Who bet­ter than us to frame the de­bate, de­fine the terms and set the tone?

I do won­der whether the coun­try re­ally wants to deal with race. The lat­est rap against me is that I fa­vor blacks over whites. At least no­body can say that about you. And they shouldn’t be say­ing it about you, ei­ther, pal. But we’re still in this to­gether. If the coun­try wanted to duck the race is­sue, there wouldn’t be two black guys in these jobs. The only way the coun­try gets be­yond race is by go­ing through it, not by try­ing to wish it away, and we have been put in a po­si­tion to lead the way.

So maybe we start by ar­gu­ing the mean­ing of free­dom and the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of a free peo­ple — me as a black lib­eral Demo­crat from Hawaii, and you as a black con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can from Mary­land.

Be care­ful. A lot of white peo­ple might find out that all blacks don’t think alike.

Or worse, that a lot of black and white peo­ple do.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama

Michael Steele

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