Monday, February 04, 2008

Portrait of the rainbow candidate in black and white.

I'd planned to run the second installment of my series on Eckhart Tolle today, but in honor of Super Tuesday, instead I'm going to tout the piece I did for Politico.com.* It's about Barack Obama and the race card, and while it's a rehash of ideas that alert readers will recognize from SHAMblog, it's also a topic that I don't think we can ever talk about enough. My bottom-line position is this: As long as we keep organizing and identifying ourselves by race, and treating race as "an inevitable component of [politics, work, romance, etc.]," it will remain so, and politicians will pander to it. Whenever I write about my hopes for a race-blind society—and I hasten to add, that's no more than what Dr. King envisioned in his most emblematic speech—people will tell me, "Come on, Steve, don't be ridiculous. Take your head out of the clouds [some prefer to picture my head elsewhere] and join us here in the real world, will you?"

Pollyanna that I am, let me just say this: In the real world, slavery was once institutionalized as an "unavoidable" way of life, economically essential to the survival of agribusiness. In the real world, women didn't used to vote; it wasn't that long ago that they couldn't work outside the home, either. (Not comfortably, they couldn't. Some would say they still can't.) In the real world, back at the turn of the century**, someone characterized a career at the U.S. Patent Office as a dead-end job because "everything that could be invented, already has been." OK, I've had that story told to me a dozen times in different ways, and it may well be apocryphal/urban legend. But you can't argue with the premise behind it: To wit, we always tend to think that the things that seem immutable to us today will remain that way forever. Think about the hubris of such a belief! If we can't figure out how to fix it or even just modify it, it's "the way things have to be," huh?

Worse yet is when we label such things "just human nature," as if to say it's endemic to the species.

Nonsense. We humans are a compendium of arms, legs, eyes, teeth, and various other reasonably standardized equipment. The way we behave, however, or even the way we think about life, is malleable. I don't know that we're capable of changing ourselves from within...but we can certainly work on each other, if we're committed enough. That's all I'm trying to accomplish.

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And finally, for those who didn't get a chance to see my piece, "The Happiness Myth," as it appeared last December in the Wall Street Journal, here's a link to it as republished today by the Catholic Education Resource Center.

* It's got the top position on the site as I write this, but they may have posted other pieces in the interim, before you got to it. Just scroll down and look for the essay titled "Barack Like Me?"
** Which is to say, the beginning of the 1900s.

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