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If we have a conversation, what will we say?

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Stephen C. Coon created and taught the “Class, Race, Gender and Media” course at Iowa State University.

I’ve written elsewhere that I deplore the term “conversation” when used to mean that our nation has to address certain issues.  It’s the wrong word. Conversation implies a friendly chat among friends or colleagues about mutually interesting trivia but with no serious intention or need to act.

That’s why I doubt the sincerity of the nation’s leaders who are calling for a “conversation” about race.  But if we have that conversation, what will we talk about?  Who will lead it?  Who are the stakeholders?  Blacks, whites, all Americans?

Will the conversation be about blacks-killing-blacks in poor neighborhoods?  We know that already.  What more is there to say?

Will the conversation be about the high number of unemployed in the inner cities?  We know that already.  What more is there to say?

Will the conversation be about the high percentage of single-parent black families?  We know that already. What more is there to say?

Will the conversation be about the epidemic of teen pregnancy and drug abuse?  We know that already.  What more is there to say?

Will the conversation be about the gangs in metropolitan communities that have replaced the nuclear family?  We know that already.  What more is there to say?

Will we discuss the criminal justice system that discriminates against African Americans and incarcerates a disproportionately high percentage of young black men?  We know that already.  What more is there to say?

Enough talk.  We know what the problems are.  Do we know what the solutions are?  Of course.  Do we care enough to do it?  Apparently not.

If we were serious about race in America, there would be more outrage over the number of black murders in Chicago each day than in the death of Trayvon Martin.  But there is silence.

If we were serious about race in America, there would be more effort by all leaders to reduce the 13.5 unemployment rate for African Americans--twice the national average.  But there is inaction.

If we were serious about race in America, there would be more efforts to keep the nuclear family in intact and reduce the number of single-parent households–a reality for two of every three black children.  President Obama has addressed this crisis, but who is listening?  

If we are serious about race in America, there would be more progress in reducing the high percentage of teenage pregnancies.  Recent statistics are encouraging, but the rate for black girls still twice the rate for white teens.  More needs to be done.  But who is helping?

If we are serious about race in America, there would be more effort to deflect black youth from crime, assure equal legal justice, and reduce the percentage of African Americans housed in our prisons.  We already know the reasons for these statistics.  But does our nation care enough to show young people of color alternative paths and guide them?  Obviously not.

We don’t need a conversation.  Rehashing truths won’t change the reality.  The cliché is true: “Words are cheap.”

America has too many persons ready to highlight problems related to race, point fingers, stir emotions, yet conveniently avoid actual work.

We need more people of all colors, class, and creed to stop talking and begin moving. This is not a black issue. This is not a white issue.  It’s an American issue.  Forget the conversation.  Just shut up and do something.


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