Egypt roils with revolution, Edward Snowden has become the Scarlet Pimpernel of privacy and a new study reveals that, even though Americans are exercising more, we're still fat, which is really unfair. Yet for weeks we've been bombarded with minute-by-minute televised coverage of the
Testimony is parsed, questions are raised — "Why was his shirt not rumpled?" — witnesses reviewed like contestants on
All the while the attorneys, the judge and various pundits continue to insist that this trial is not about race. Which is simply ridiculous. If this trial isn't about race, then why on earth are so many news organizations live-streaming it? Because it's in Florida?
No, all the cameras are trained on the
This is a country, after all, where
We're way post-racism, right?
When the circumstances of Martin's death were made public, it was all about race. The first-run storyline — an armed, self-appointed neighborhood watchman followed, then confronted, then killed a young man he found suspicious because he was black and wearing a hoodie — prompted protests, commentary, even an odd but affecting message from President Obama, who said that if he'd had a son, he might have looked like Martin.
The trial, on the other hand, offers hope that the evidence will provide an alternate narrative. Even as "Fruitvale Station" enters theaters to remind us of another black man killed in recent years for no good reason, many want to believe that Martin's death was not simply an issue of color, that there were a host of other circumstances, and maybe we can stop talking about race in this country.
As if we'll ever be done talking about race in this country.
Like it or not, race is the real, true all-American conversation. Other countries have class and religion; the United States has race. It is this country's great experiment, the root of our one civil war, the reason for perhaps the biggest blot on our self-assigned badge of One Nation, Under God.
The fact that a Continental
And every time we think we're done, that we can applaud our mixed race president, put
For a month now, it's been the talk of television, starting, surprisingly enough, with
Critics and essayists had barely finished recording their reactions to witnessing the unbridled racism depicted in
"Yes" was bad enough; "of course" did her in, especially when it was followed not by an apology but with the tale of how a black man once held her at gunpoint. As if that made her use of the word somehow excusable.
She subsequently apologized, but that word, combined with the story of how she contemplated creating a "plantation-style" wedding, shrunk her brand-based empire almost overnight. A person can get away with many things in this country but being asked by Matt Lauer if you are a racist is not one of them. Even if your answer is "no."
Riled up by what they perceived as a racist double standard, many cried foul, pointing to the casual use of the same term by black people, including famous musicians and comedians. Several came to Deen's defense, including
While the Supreme Court decided that a key portion of the Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary, prompting Garry Trudeau to resurrect Jim Crow in "Doonesbury," the Deen story stuck like, well, white on rice.
Which, as many members of social media instantly pointed out, is so pejorative it could not be spelled out on national television.
More unnerving was that the show focused mainly on how black Americans use the word, as if we could take for granted that white Americans only say it by swapping the "er" for an "a" to make it a fond synonym for homie. If the emails I received after writing about Deen's appearance on
Not so many came to GinaMarie's defense as came to Deen's, possibly because the "Big Brother" contestant is not grandmotherly and famous, but more probably because her transgression occurred right before so many eyes, reminding us of why even tough-talking journalists use the term "the N-word."
There is simply no uglier word because no other group of Americans has the history of institutionalized and violent oppression that African Americans have, and that word is a six-letter condensation of it all.
If we're so easily provoked to argument over our right to use a universally agreed upon racial insult, is it any wonder so much attention is focused on whose screams preface the shot that killed Trayvon Martin? The verdict takes on the shape of fulcrum, with a chance to swing the conversation one way or the other, to quantify in some way the question all of these conversations raise: Are black people still regularly and systemically victimized because they are black?
As if this were a question one trial, or one panel, or one president could answer.
Social change rarely comes in the form of a definitive; we cannot say we were once one thing and now we are another. History continues to happen, reaching out from the past through the cracks between the passing minutes. We built a land of freedom using slaves; we waved a banner of equality even as millions still bitterly fought to attain it, and no matter what our politics, we love a country that is as much dream as reality.
Conversations about race remind us of all that; it's easy to wish we were done. To achieve the revolution we started, we must live in the past, the present and the future, which is exhausting and impossible and the only reason any of this works at all.