It is considered the height of sophistication to declare that “America doesn’t want to talk about race.”
I say it’s time to retire this phrase. Imagine being from a foreign country and hearing that phrase, watching a room full of earnest people nodding warmly, after just the first eight months of this year. Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Sam Dubose, Sandra Bland, the Justice Department’s report on Ferguson, the Charleston shootings, Rachel Dolezal, Bill Cosby, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book, James Blake, and of course the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a country that “doesn’t talk about race”? Let’s face it—the assertion in itself is splendidly absurd.
Given that it is so painfully obvious that America is engaged in a fervent year-round discussion of both race and racism, there is only one possible conclusion as to what these people actually mean. When someone says America doesn’t talk about race, they mean something much more specific: that America doesn’t think racism determines black lives to such an extent that the nation needs a vast upending of procedure.
Clearly, to the people so aggrieved, the conversation we have all the time isn’t enough, and in fact conversation isn’t what they really mean. These people don’t want to just “talk.” They want to soften hard-hearted America up for a revolution. In other words, using the word “race” is a euphemism, felt as a necessary prelude to a radical proposition.