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Talking Past Each Other On Race

An Evans-Manning Award for an excellent comment in the thread below goes to Dennis Sanders, an openly gay, African-American Republican reader of this blog, who says:

The fact of the matter is, Rod is correct that white conservatives aren’t going to give up that which makes them conservative, such as their opposition to affirmative action. It’s not because they are racist and want to preserve the white race as much as it is reverse sense of unfairness in a time when jobs are not as plentiful.

But Rod and other conservatives have to understand that dismantling things like affirmative action and then offering nothing in its place except nostrums about opportunity gives blacks the impression that white conservatives don’t care about blacks and don’t understand the minefield we walk through in trying to go to college, find employment or advance in the workplace.

Here’s an example. Back in the 50s, my Dad and some relatives drove up from their native Louisiana to look for jobs at Caterpillar in Illinois. Dad said they came to plant asking for work and some white official said there were no jobs to be had even though white men were finding work at the plant. Dad later went to Michigan to find work in GM.

It’s a safe bet that blacks my age and younger hear these stories from their parents and grandparents. It’s seared into our brains that the world is unfair and will look us over for a white person with less experience. So, when the average black guy hears a white conservative talking about ending affirmative action, they go back to the stories their elders told them and interpret this as “the white man wants to keep us black folk down.”

This is a long way of saying that there needs to be a real discussion on race between African Americans and conservatives. But it has to be a real discussion where we are open to listening to each other’s fears and hurts without immediately judging the other person. We can’t do what John McWhorter has long talked about, have a “conversation on race” which is little more than the black person yelling about how unfair life is and the white person just taking it in. We have to have a real discussion, a willingness to really listen to one another and then find ways to bring African Americans into the Republican tent. But that means setting aside our pain just a little so that we can hear each other.

I appreciate this perspective. Depressingly, however, it calls to mind a post I put up earlier this year about why honest conversation about race is pretty much impossible.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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