Recent years have seen a depressing pattern in which notable “ethnic” political figures— from President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on down—end up having to extricate themselves from the tangles of racial politics, defending themselves from charges of “reverse racism,” “identity politics,” or the like. This may have much to do with the fact that, unlike their “nonethnic” counterparts, such “minority role models” are regularly asked to put on the public record—at lunches, award ceremonies, community events—lengthy statements of their views on America’s most explosive topic: race.
Monica Youn is of course talking about the charges of “reverse racism” lobbed at Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayer, and that often, people of color are asked to talk about race and represent “their” race especially when achieving high office or appointments.
The charges of racism, because Sotomayer suggested that because she is a woman and a Latina, that she might have a better perspective than a white male judge, only really works if talking about race and racism was equal in this country. The sad truth of it is: it is not.
Whites do not have to talk about race. Whites do not have to defend themselves daily and especially when achieving high positions. Youn makes this point at the end of her article:
Frank talk about racial identity is neither racism nor its reverse and should be invited from “ethnic” and “nonethnic” figures alike. It’s hardly fair for minority candidates to be attacked for accepting invitations to talk about race when members of the silent majority are allowed to remain silent.
And that’s just it. While various ethnic groups strive to find individuality, acceptance and recognition of unique circumstances, mainstream America really only sees two “races”: white and not-white. Yet, whites often assume that since liberal teachings tell us that we are all equal, then the balance of these two races is just as equal. It is this myopic view where conservative pendants lash out when a person of color talks about race. They do not see, or they refuse to acknowledge the very real history and present reality of race in America.
Or maybe, just maybe, they are all too aware that with a black president, a powerful symbol of racial change, whites really will be seen as just another ethnic group.