COMMENTARY: Dialogue on race is now a maddening monologue

MGN Online

By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.

SAN DIEGO — For years, people have told me to stop talking about race and ethnicity. That sort of dialogue, they warn, only divides Americans.

Little did I know the real reason they wanted me to pipe down was so I could hear them drone on about that very same topic — on their terms.

Gaslighted by immigration and “the Squad,” folks on Fox News and right-wing radio are once again obsessed with race talk. Some of the loudest voices — Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, etc. — are content to talk only to people who look like them. If you feel disempowered because, instead of 100% of the pie, you now have to make do with 99%, you have one heck of a support group in conservative media.

Yet, some readers still urge me to back off racial issues.

Hard pass. When the folks on the cultural right stop talking about race, I’ll stop, too. Otherwise, it’s unilateral disarmament. Besides, what’s the point of a discussion about race in America that only involves white TV pundits, columnists and radio hosts?

Similar questions are surfacing in the presidential race, where Julian Castro has zeroed in on the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in newsrooms. The former secretary of housing and urban development believes there’s a link between U.S. media that are overwhelmingly white and the fact that the American public has such a one-dimensional view of what it means to be Latino. His presidential bid is energizing Latinos, and educating non-Latinos.

“It’s a shame that so few of us have run for president before,” Castro recently told BuzzFeed News. Calling for a “stronger pipeline” for people of color in both politics and media, he noted: “Our country is more diverse than ever, but newsrooms have not kept up with that, and the coverage suffers because of that.”

We need more voices in the mix. America’s dialogue on race has become a monologue. Familiar narratives have re-emerged suggesting that nonwhite Americans are inferior, menacing and unpatriotic. Some whites even complain of “reverse racism” and insist that they’re being targeted.

Not surprisingly, President Trump is leading the sprint to the bottom. “The ‘Squad’ is a very Racist group of troublemakers who are young, inexperienced, and not very smart,” Trump tweeted last week.

Meanwhile, Republicans have gone from fending off accusations of racism to trying to run the discussion and dictate the terms. Some white folks are up in arms over three words: “people of color.”

Roger Kimball, editor of The New Criterion, recently told Fox News’ Carlson that the four freshman congresswomen who make up the Squad should stop using the term “people of color” because it’s a “racist phrase.” Besides, he said, “everyone has a color.”

True enough. And lately, a lot of voices on the right are showing theirs. They’re all too happy — at every opportunity — to tap into the angst of white Americans who feel forgotten, pushed aside and marginalized.

The opportunists include Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., who recently said this to Vice News about the Squad: “You know, they talk about people of color. I’m a person of color. I’m white. I’m an Anglo Saxon.”

This is weird. My parents, who were born in the 1940s, were beat over the head with the idea that they were the wrong color. Mexican American mothers rubbed lemon juice on their children’s faces because it was rumored to lighten the skin.

Now some white folks seem bored with their own privilege, and they want to be thought of as “people of color.” Who can keep up?

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, R-Mass., recently told minorities who want to run for office that they had better “represent.”

Speaking at the Netroots Nation convention, the Squad member said: “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. … If you’re worried about being marginalized and stereotyped, please don’t even show up.”

Preach. People of color do not all think alike. But what good does it do to have a Latino or African American elected official who cashes in on a cushy job but downplays part of his or her biography? Not much.

I have bad news. Our national conversation on race has turned into an incoherent rant. Deciphering it will require more dialogue, not less.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.