Now this was quite interesting. I'm really hoping these guys will give me some embed so I can post video. Anyway Matt--who attended--has his impressions here, here, here and here. The panel featured Shelby Steele, Charles Kamasaki, and Richard Thompson Ford. I had a devil of a time because I was moderating, but as many of you know, I have some deep deep--dare I say profound--disagreements with Shelby Steele. I was hoping that someone on the panel would challenge some of his more outlandish statements, but it mostly fell to me. i don't think that was out of any passivity--it wasn't Kamasaki's area, and I think Richard may be a little closer to Shelby's politics than me. I hope I'm not miscasting Richard there. Anyway, I challenged where I could--the idea that the biggest problem in America, regarding race, is white guilt was particularly ridiculous, and I said as much.
But more interesting to me was the crowd, which immediately made me understand why someone might think that white guilt was a problem. When people say white folks are "uncomfortable" talking about race, I've basically accepted it as true. It's never been my experience--all the white people I know talk about it willingly. But once again, we're back to the differing tribes of whiteness, no? There were a few black folks in the audience (We've actually been represented well out here. Props to Aspen on that), but virtually no Latinos or Asians. More importantly, the crowd was, in the main, over fifty. What I mean is that, the crowd was of a generation where people were extremely uncomfortable discussing race.
Of course, I'm slow on the uptake. Man listen, I'm steady cracking jokes, trying to lighten the mood, and I'm getting the stone-face treatment the whole time. A riff on all the black folks rooting for the Celtics this year went over like a Toby Keith concert in Harlem. Tough crowd. Plus we got questions like "Where are all the black leaders to tell black people about social responsibility" and "Will Barack Obama be assassinated." The whole thing sort of depressed me, because I felt as a moderator, I could have done better, and yet I also wanted to be in a better position to challenge Shelby on some of his arguments. That said, again, this is where you see that the biggest divide on this whole racial conversation may not be between black and white, but between the old and the young.
UPDATE: On Monday Shelby bizarely claimed that white guilt was one of the reasons we were losing the Iraq War. I don't think I have to comment on that. But what's interesting is that it wasn't the first time he'd made such a statement.
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