Put a rat in a maze and block the first gate that leads to the solution. What do you get? First, a frustrated rat. Later, a tired rat. Finally, a rat that's apathetic. That's what's happened with this "race thing." The public discussion of the issue has been blocked at the first gate, and we've quit trying to define what race is. That's why we were treated to the weird Clinton Administration convulsions over the question of a national "apology." That's why even John Hope Franklin's assemblies merely tap at the door of the frustrated conversation's main obstacle, then muddle off in search of the same dead ends. Our national conversation has become like an apathetic rat.
We need to agree on how we construct race. We refuse to define the problem, because the implications of demystifying the issue go to the central engine of our polity, where white-hot economic power puffs and flashes without restraint.
Permit me to elaborate with a war story, as old soldiers are wont to do. I was in Haiti for the 1994 intervention, where we began flying into Port-au-Prince just as the genteel butcher, Cedras, boarded a plane to Panama to enjoy the fruits of his kleptomania, and as the feral Chief of Staff and head narcotics trafficker, Michel François, was bumping across the bridge on the Riviere Massacre to find refuge in the Dominican Republic. They had left behind between 3,000 and 5,000 corpses and an unmitigated economic disaster, even compared to what had gone before them. Within one week, the US military commanders were cozily toasting with the retired Cedras' officer corps, the international bankers were industriously consulting with the US diplomatic corps, and the Psychological Operations loudspeaker teams were rolling through the streets, playing Creole tapes exalting the virtues of reconciliation.
That's when I first gained a clear perspective on reconciliation, and that's why I feel compelled to point out how contemptibly inappropriate "reconciliation" seems to this whole so-called national dialogue on race. It avoids the issues of all those dead bodies. Moreover, it avoids the issue of what power is, who has it, and how those who have it refuse to relinquish it.
So long as we chase our tails with the construction of race as physical, or change direction with race as a cultural construction, we can generate a lot of motion, but we won't move out of the same general spot. All constructions serve a purpose. If the construction has become problematic, then it seems logical to determine exactly what that purpose is, and correct the problem.
The construction of race has been, from the very beginning, economic. It has always served as a prop for the perpetuation of economic power, and it still does. Just as in Haiti, reconciliation becomes the mantra of the powerful when they sense a threat, and reconciliation becomes the door slammed in the face of justice.
To test this assertion, imagine that tomorrow we all wake up and everyone, every shade, every gender identity, every nationality, has absolute economic equality. Now what does the prejudice of a bigot matter, with no power to back it up?
The question is not color, and it is not reconciliation. It is economic justice.
Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.