Trumping the "Race Card"

The news cycle the past few days has been dominated by the Clinton and Obama camps arguing over race and its role in this campaign and America’s history. All of this upheaval and consternation comes as MLK Day comes upon us. What are we to make of this? Where does this growing feud lead us? I have written here before about race, racism, and race relations. I do so today knowing that whatever I say could easily be twisted or misconstrued. That’s the risk we all take when writing about important and deeply emotional issues. But something must be said.

Some argue that Senator Clinton has injected race into the campaign solely for political gain. Meanwhile, some writers and pundits have suggested that Barack Obama has studiously avoided talking about race so he might transcend race, or make himself more acceptable to whites. Indeed, in last Sunday's Washington Post article, David Greenberg wrote:

“Obama – whose strongest appeal has thus far been to upscale whites – allows those whites to feel good about themselves and their country. He lets them imagine that a nation founded for freedom yet built on slavery can be redeemed by pulling a lever.”

If Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to end their current tearing of the fabric of this campaign, they should pick a time, meet together, and emerge to declare to voters and the nation as a whole that they acknowledge that race and racism is an issue in America, that the process of healing will take some time, and that in this campaign they pledge to not use race and racism as a ploy to collect votes. They would also make note of these additional realities:

1. No candidate, no matter how gifted or skilled, can through their campaign offer redemption to a nation on its stained history. Surely, the candidate can help lead and give voice to such a process, but the great work of coming together will ultimately only occur through the efforts of people in their communities, and only over time.

2. Questions about each candidate’s record and readiness should be forthright and clear-headed, not couched in euphemisms used by each other or surrogates. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Otherwise, a campaign about America’s future will become hostage to its past, with little progress to be made for any of us.

3. If phony discussions about race persist and the posturing continues, we may very well miss tackling the real issues that require our attention, such as inadequate public schools, global warming, immigration, and, yes, race and the growing diversity ofAmerica. Show your true colors by addressing these and other vital issues.

This is an important juncture in the campaign, and for the country. Both sides keep hurling aspersions at the other, even as they try to put a lid on this escalating battle. Now is the time for both to exercise genuine leadership and foresight by coming together and setting out clear terms for how to move forward in the name of our common redemption.