Terry Manning

Why do we struggle talking about race?


One of the most frustrating — and hurtful — discoveries from the tenure of the most recent former president is just how racially prejudiced many of the people around us really are. 

It’s not that they voted for him after he kicked off his campaign with disparaging remarks about immigrants. It’s that they continued to support him even after his divisive comments broadened to include most people of color. 

We had to revisit previously favorable opinions we’d held of our friends and coworkers in light of their newfound energy for this man who made openly racist comments and encouraged his supporters with combative rhetoric. Even people we were pretty sure weren’t racist seemed to turn a blind eye to his worst antics. 

If only we could discuss our conflicted feelings with these friends. But everybody knows you cannot talk about racism in this country. Somehow we’ve made talking about racism worse than racism itself. 

That’s what it felt like when comedian Whoopi Goldberg drew a suspension from her daytime TV talk show “The View” after she said the persecution of Jews during World War II wasn’t racist because it was White people killing White people. She immediately conceded her misjudgment and apologized, but no, no, the damage was done. 

Was Goldberg wrong for speaking from her personal experience and observation? No, but … also yes. To her mind, it was people who shared the same skin tones killing each other. Nazis wanted to exterminate a group they decided were subhuman, and they perpetrated a campaign to do so. But the prejudice driving that violence was not based on skin tone. It was based on ethnicity. 

Some of what we talk about in terms of “race” actually is ethnicity, but we have dumbed it down by basing it on visual cues like skin tone. If you have a certain skin tone, you are subject to being treated a certain way. People look at you and decide they can make assumptions about you, your character and what they can say and do to you and get away with it. 

Goldberg was penalized despite her comments reflecting how racism regularly is perpetrated in this country. 

Another example of this unease is the controversy surrounding the Miami Dolphins football team’s new coach, Mike McDaniel. His predecessor, Brian Flores, was fired after a season many judged as being more successful than could have been expected, and he accused the NFL of being biased against Black coaches. 

Flores said Black coaches are not given a fair chance to compete for head coaching positions, despite a rule requiring teams to interview Black candidates, and that Black coaches are often held to a tougher standard than white coaches. 

McDaniel, who is biracial, was asked about being one of only four minority head coaches in the league and answered that he felt uncomfortable with the focus on his racial background, adding, “I identify as a human being. My dad’s Black.” 

Nice try, Mike, but in America, you have to be something. You have to claim a tribe. You can’t just be.

Maybe it’s easier if, like McDaniel, you have straight hair and a light complexion that doesn’t automatically prompt inquiries into your racial origins. But once the question is asked an answer must be given. You can’t just choose not to choose. Ask Tiger Woods. 

The latest case of this sensitivity is the dust up over “critical race theory” being taught in schools — even though it isn’t. The loudest voices claim white children are being taught to hate America and to feel bad about being white because of the nation’s history of race relations. 

The ill-defined movement has picked up so much steam an Alabama school superintendent had to tell concerned parents (do we ever say “white parents,” or is that just assumed when parents are “concerned?”) that observing Black History Month isn’t critical race theory. The state board of education in that state already passed a ban against CRT and related issues. 

Heaven forbid American schoolchildren learn facts when they’re being taught American history. 

I like the meme depicting Ruby Bridges, the little Black girl who was six years old when she integrated Louisiana public schools in 1960. It includes the caption, “If this child was strong enough to survive it, your child is strong enough to learn about it.” 

I also like the saying, “God can’t heal what we conceal.” 

We all need to learn how to address this sickness holding us in its grip instead of keeping it hidden away like a family secret. 

Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at teemanning@gmail.com. 

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