Amer­ica’s di­a­logue on race has be­come a mad­den­ing rant

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.

For years, peo­ple have told me to stop talk­ing about race and eth­nic­ity. That sort of di­a­logue, they warn, only di­vides Amer­i­cans.

Lit­tle did I know the real rea­son they wanted me to pipe down was so I could hear them drone on about that very same topic – on their terms.

Gaslighted by im­mi­gra­tion and “the Squad,” folks on Fox News and rightwing ra­dio are once again ob­sessed with race talk. Some of the loud­est voices – Tucker Carl­son, Sean Han­nity, Rush Lim­baugh, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin etc. – are con­tent to talk only to peo­ple who look like them. If you feel dis­em­pow­ered be­cause, in­stead

of 100% of the pie, you now have to make do with 99%, you have one heck of a sup­port group in con­ser­va­tive me­dia.

Yet, some read­ers still urge me to back off racial is­sues.

Hard pass. When the folks on the cul­tural right stop talk­ing about race, I'll stop, too. Oth­er­wise, it's uni­lat­eral dis­ar­ma­ment. Be­sides, what's the point of a dis­cus­sion about race in Amer­ica that only in­volves white TV pun­dits, colum­nists and ra­dio hosts?

Sim­i­lar ques­tions are sur­fac­ing in the pres­i­den­tial race, where Ju­lian Cas­tro has ze­roed in on the lack of racial and eth­nic di­ver­sity in news­rooms. The for­mer sec­re­tary of hous­ing and ur­ban devel­op­ment be­lieves there's a link be­tween a U.S. me­dia that is over­whelm­ingly white and the fact that the Amer­i­can pub­lic has such a oned­i­men­sional view of what it means to be Latino. His pres­i­den­tial bid is en­er­giz­ing Lati­nos, and ed­u­cat­ing non-Lati­nos.

“It's a shame that so few of us have run for pres­i­dent be­fore,” Cas­tro re­cently told Buz­zFeed News. Call­ing for a “stronger pipeline” for peo­ple of color in both pol­i­tics and me­dia, he noted: “Our coun­try is more di­verse than ever, but news­rooms have not kept up with that, and the cov­er­age suf­fers be­cause of that.”

We need more voices in the mix. Amer­ica's di­a­logue on race has be­come a mono­logue. Fa­mil­iar nar­ra­tives have reemerged sug­gest­ing that non­white Amer­i­cans are in­fe­rior, men­ac­ing and un­pa­tri­otic. Some whites even com­plain of “re­verse racism” and in­sist that they're be­ing tar­geted.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Pres­i­dent Trump is lead­ing the sprint to the bot­tom. “The ‘Squad' is a very Racist group of trou­ble­mak­ers who are young, in­ex­pe­ri­enced, and not very smart,” Trump tweeted last week.

Mean­while, Repub­li­cans have gone from fend­ing off ac­cu­sa­tions of racism to try­ing to run the dis­cus­sion and dic­tate the terms. Some white folks are up in arms over three words: “peo­ple of color.”

Roger Kim­ball, ed­i­tor of The New Cri­te­rion, re­cently told Fox News' Carl­son that the four fresh­man con­gress­women who make up the Squad should stop us­ing the term “peo­ple of color” be­cause it's a “racist phrase.” Be­sides, he said, “ev­ery­one has a color.”

True enough. And lately, a lot of voices on the right are show­ing theirs. They're all too happy – at every op­por­tu­nity – to tap into the angst of white Amer­i­cans who feel for­got­ten, pushed aside and marginal­ized.

The op­por­tunists in­clude Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., who re­cently said this to Vice News about the Squad: “You know, they talk about peo­ple of color. I'm a per­son of color. I'm white. I'm an An­glo Saxon.”

This is weird. My par­ents, who were born in the 1940s, were beat over the head with the idea that they were the wrong color. Mex­i­can Amer­i­can moth­ers rubbed le­mon juice on their chil­dren's faces be­cause it was ru­mored to lighten the skin.

Now some white folks seem bored with their own priv­i­lege, and they want to be thought of as “peo­ple of color.” Who can keep up?

At the op­po­site end of the spec­trum, Rep. Ayanna Press­ley, R-Mass., re­cently told mi­nori­ties who want to run for of­fice that they had bet­ter “rep­re­sent.”

Speak­ing at the Net­roots Na­tion con­ven­tion, the Squad mem­ber said: “We don't need any more brown faces that don't want to be a brown voice. We don't need black faces that don't want to be a black voice . ... If you're wor­ried about be­ing marginal­ized and stereo­typed, please don't even show up.”

Preach. Peo­ple of color do not all think alike. But what good does it do to have a Latino or African Amer­i­can elected of­fi­cial who cashes in on a cushy job but down­plays part of his or her bi­og­ra­phy? Not much.

I have bad news. Our na­tional con­ver­sa­tion on race has turned into an in­co­her­ent rant. De­ci­pher­ing it will re­quire more di­a­logue, not less.

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