National Review editor and syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg has thrown down the gauntlet in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed published yesterday. Motivated by recent debates over President Obama's nomination of Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, Goldberg has called liberals hypocrites on issues of race.
Liberals are always asking for honest discussions about race and racism, he says, but they don't really mean it.
"They invite everyone to a big, open-minded conversation," he writes, "but the moment anyone disagrees with them, they shout "racist" and force the dissenters to figuratively don dunce caps and renounce their reactionary views. Then, when the furor dies down, they again offer up grave lamentations about the lack of 'honest dialogue'. It's a mixture of Kabuki dance and whack-a-mole."
I really don't disagree with Goldberg on that point.
If we are going to be serious about calls for honest race-based conversations, we have to be prepared for everyone's two-cents, including the Limbaughs and the Gingrinches (the two public figures most clamoring for a discussion about Sotomayor's putative racism). In many ways, that is one of the reasons why I have grown to appreciate the blog as a public platform. The anonymity readers can embrace allows them a kind of cyber-courage to lash out in all the politically incorrect (and sometimes downright hateful) ways that few people would be willing to proffer if their actual names were attached. We have scrubbed the public sphere so clean, it is sometimes useful to get a dose of un-euphemistic reality. We can see exactly where we collectively stand.
The conversations we need to have about race, the truly honest ones, won't just be genteel performances of decorum and mutual respect. There will be some of that, thankfully, but talking across racial tracks will also be about anger, rage, resentment, and much gnashing of teeth. The conversation won't just be a battle of reason and objective argumentation, no matter what pundits on the left or right might imagine. Indeed, our "public sphere" was never simply saturated by Habermasian hyper-rationalities. It is equally constituted by longstanding commitments to irrationality and unreasonableness. Our contemporary commitments to race and racism are affect-laden, self-interested and decidedly reason-proof. But we probably need to talk them through anyway, and publicly, even if the cynics would call it all a waste of time.