(Rich Galen, Mullings) – Here’s what you know if you write a column about race: You will get it wrong.
It may be a sentence, or a word (likely a noun), or just a grammar point (“That should have been a semi-colon not a comma”), but everyone will find something to complain about.
Are you “Black,” or “African American”? I know it’s no longer “Gay and Lesbian.” It’s “LGBTQ,” or at least it was last time I looked. Is someone “Latino(a)” or “Hispanic”? Is someone else an “Indian” or a “Native American”? Am I a “Jew”? Or, am I “Jewish”?
On the Sunday shows, there was a concerted effort, especially among Black commentators, to point out how far America has come. There are no longer “Whites Only” bathrooms, water fountains or, for that matter, soda fountains.
We have evolved in our thinking from the days that homosexuality was illegal to a time when marriage equality as the law of the land.
It was only in 1967 that the last state law banning interracial marriage – a Virginia law – was struck down by the Supreme Court in the Loving v. Virginia case.
You don’t think times have changed much? Here’s a piece of what the Virginia state judge said in sentencing Mr. and Mrs. Loving to a 25-year-exile (that’s true) from the Commonwealth of Virginia:
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
And, it wasn’t until 2003 that the Supreme Court effectively declared anti-homosexuality laws Unconstitutional in the Lawrence v. Texas case.
You might not know if someone is Gay or straight by looking at them. You might not be able to tell if they are Jewish or Episcopalian. Maybe you can’t tell if someone is Middle Eastern or Southern European.
But it’s usually not that hard to tell if someone is Black or White, and therein lies the problem.
I consider myself among the least prejudiced people on the planet: Short, fat, bald, left-handed, 69-years-old … I don’t have that much to feel superior about.
But, I don’t get it. If you are White you probably don’t get it, either.
As Newt Gingrich pointed out over the weekend:
“If you are a normal white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America and you instinctively under-estimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk.”
He went on to write:
“We’ve come a fair distance … but we’ve stalled out on the cultural, economic, practical progress we needed.”
I’ve known, worked for, around, and with Newt for some 35 years. I have never heard him utter a negative word against Blacks; never seen him raise an eyebrow, nor shoot a glance.
It is the sociological equivalent of what, in computer programming, is known as the “90-90 Rule” promulgated by Tom Cargill of Bell Labs:
“The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.”
So, maybe that’s the answer. Let’s put as much effort into this last 10 percent as we have in the first 90 percent. Like complex code, you create one instruction at a time, then test it to see if it (a) does what you thought it would do without, (b) having an adverse effect on a previous instruction. Then you move onto the next.
Here’s what I do know, though. Getting frustrated and shouting at your computer screen won’t get you there. Shouting at each other won’t get us there, either.
I know something else, too.
It’s OK to ask for help.
Mr. Galen is a veteran political strategist and communications consultant. He blogs at www.Mullings.com.