Getting past

Getting past
: I was raised in an old-time American liberal tradition that believed our national ideal — melting-pot nirvana — would be the day when we’d all stop treating each other differently; we’d all be individuals; we’d be colorblind (and sex-blind and ethnic-blind and disability-blind and so on and so on).

And that’s why yesterday’s New York Times report on Dr. Condi Rice’s testimony before the 9/11 commission got under my craw, for it made a big deal of Condi Rice being black. Aren’t we past that?

Allesandra Stanley — my least favorite TV critic for many reasons in many reviews — gives us this take on Dr. Rice’s testimony:

There was absolutely nothing in Condoleezza Rice’s neutral-toned suit, primly folded hands or calm demeanor to draw attention to her sex or race. Her answers, guarded, prosaic and a bit pedantic, were typical of any high-level Washington official.

But the last time the major networks interrupted regular programming to provide live coverage of a black woman testifying under oath in Washington was years ago when Anita Hill spoke out against Clarence Thomas in 1991.

And at least one former senator intent on confronting Ms. Rice seemed sensitive to her background.

“Let me say at the beginning I’m very impressed, indeed, I’d go so far as to say moved by your story, the story of your life and what you’ve accomplished,” Bob Kerrey, a commission member and former Democratic senator from Nebraska, told Ms. Rice, referring to her early childhood in segregated Birmingham, Ala. “It’s quite extraordinary.”

Actually, Ms. Rice has said in interviews that there is nothing unusual about her success given her upbringing by parents and grandparents who were college educated and who prodded her to excel.

What an insulting, racist bunch of drivel. What was supposed to “draw attention to her sex or race”? A Janet Jackson wardrobe malfuntion, perhaps?

Are we still to be surprised that a black woman can be accomplished and smart and powerful on either count: black or woman?

We should judge Rice for Rice. But they’re not doing that in the NY Times.

It’s all the more ridiculous that Stanley falls for Kerrey’s condescending game of passive-aggression: ‘I’m going to say something nice about the black woman before I attack her rudely.’

Later yesterday, I spent time with some wonderful people who are trying to do good things and for a few minutes, the topic of diversity came up. I realized that I felt like the odd man out of that discussion, for — especially since I’ve gained experience online — I don’t see diversity as a matter of having one of this and of that on a committee or a staff … because they are simply too many thises and thats in the world.

How do you define diversity these days: black, Hispanic (which Hispanic?), Asian (which Asian?), Arab (which Arab?), Jewish, Christian (which Christian?), Muslim (which Muslim?), disabled (which disability), young, old (how old?), left, right, libertarian, straight, gay, lesbian… and on and on and on…

I’ve been telling people in media that one great reason to embrace weblogs is that they bring in diversity better than hiring: You don’t end up with one of this and one of that but with a endless variety of viewpoints and perspectives and backgrounds.

In the end, we’re all individuals. We’re not labels. That is supposed to be American Nirvana, isn’t it? Oh, sure, we gave up on the melting pot; we gave up on the idea that we’d all end up assimilated and similar. We’re all different. So why put us into one bucket or another with the expectations — the prejudices — that brings?

Why think for a second that Dr. Condoleeza Rice is going to be anything other than smart and accomplished and tough and strong? Why should the New York Times of all publications expect her to exhibit racial and sexual stereotypes?

Aren’t we past that?

  • joe

    Aren’t you mis-reading the NYTimes article? Isn’t she saying how nice it is that her being an African-American hasn’t become an issue? In order to make such a claim, it requires the writer to point out that Rice is, indeed, black. But that doesn’t make the article racist, does it?
    Further, since this writer is commenting on TV, where race is always such a contested issue, it certainly seems to be a fair topic.

  • It’s just such a strange sentence. I can’t tell where the writer is coming from. I mean, it is obvious Ms. Rice in her “neutral-toned suit” is black and female; it’s not like she was wearing a fencing suit complete with mask and gloves.

  • Joe:
    And so why does The Times have to riase it? That’s the point. It’s irrelevant in the hearings.. but The Times feels obligated to bring this up. Why?

  • Michael Brazier

    Don’t worry, most of America is past the need to make a great fuss over accomplished black women. It’s just the New York Times that’s backward and reactionary …

  • billg

    Good stuff, Jeff.
    There’s a big difference between not paying attention to gender and race and paying just enough attention to allow you to say pandering things about how you don’t pay attention to race and gender.
    In any case, since most of the commissioners were showboating for the television audience, they couldn’t have cared less who was sitting across from them.

  • Ebb Tide

    The NY Times is the only newspaper that I have seen which refers to Condoleezza Rice as Ms., and not Dr.
    Everywhere else she is Dr. Rice.
    I wrote the ombudsman at the NYTimes and he *did* write me back saying they do not credit PHD’s as Dr. and that she prefers to be called Ms. Rice.
    But even if that answer is “correct” (and I guess it is a style-book issue) it still bothers me. They seem to be dissing her not to credit her title as Dr.
    Anyway, I watched her entire testimony, so I didn’t read what the NYTimes had to say about it.

  • For the reasons why “we” aren’t past this, see Why There Is A Culture War: Gramsci and Tocqueville in America.
    On a related note, HUD and the Ad Council are running a TV commercial in which a voice actor makes several phone calls about an apartment. For each call he uses a different ethnic accent: black, Chinese, Mexican, etc. Each voice is told the apartment is not available.
    Only when he uses his WASP name/voice does he learn the apartment is actually available.
    There is only one version of this commercial.
    In other words, HUD and the Ad Council have determined the perpetrators and beneficiaries of housing discrimination to be one ethnic group.
    Details on the commercial here.

  • well bred woman
  • Bruce H.

    Everybody has gotten past Democrats being black. A black Republican is still a big, big deal.

  • PJF

    On the other hand, Rice did use her racial origins to make a good point about the difficulties in creating a multi-ethnic democracy in Iraq straight away:
    “When our Founding Fathers said, “We the people” – they didn’t mean me.”

  • nitronora

    heh. Warblog or not, it’s nice to see the liberal-ish Mr BuzzMachine noticing the hypocracy and phoniness of the Democrats’ diversity meme.
    No country in the history of humankind has bettered itself by hyping the racial and ethnic differences between its citizens. How often has dwelling upon ancient differences translated into taking action on ancient grudges?
    The answer to that question lies in what you see in the world outside America: ancient grudges cause war.
    We must have some common bond for this thing to work. Being American happens to be it.
    Nora Hamilton
    Grand Junction Colorado USA

  • hey

    something disappointing and depressing is that now people who claim to be of the left are saying that Rice is obviously an idiot. She’s also incompetent.
    I mean, ok, you don’t have to like her policies, or her politics. But that she’s “incompetent” or a “moron”
    wow… see here (the post and the comments)
    provost of stanford is an “idiot”
    this is what we’re down to. ok so im not really known for being overly civil, but at least i give my enemies the credit to believe that they are misguided or have bad intentions, rather than pathologizing them or saying that they are mentally stunted.
    as for those who say that dissent is patriotic, please see the pictures from the “rally in support of the intifada” from lgf. warning, these are exceptionally hateful, delighting in the murder of american soldiers in their barracks by a supposed colleague, desecration of bodies, and killing of americans anywhere in iraq:

  • Joy

    Condi Rice is a Republican, and that alone makes her an object of hatred to the Left.