{Empty title} | The Nation

Lauren -

I admit that in my response I did you a disservice, with snarky ad hominem remarks; and I muffed my point, to boot.

Let me point out, though, that I never mistook your use of "charity" for the common one, and didn't mean to indicate something given or granted. I meant instead to deny, in interpreting Biden's comments re Obama, that this 64-year-old attorney and Senator had shot far of the intended mark, in speaking. I'll cop to the same "rejection of that more simple interpretation in favor of the more complex" which you attributed to Patricia Williams: Biden's remark was discriminative (in the very general sense), and not some great bearhug of the all-inclusive America-to-be.

Here's the lesson Biden failed to learn (he seemed only slightly chastened, when he appeared on Bill Maher's "Real Time"): picking out a prodigy from ANY "minority" to cite the specimen for his/her certain bright spots - the clean eloquence of Obama; the ballsy resolve of a female executive; or the butch/un-flamboyant demeanor of a gay man, and so on - lands you immediately in the mire of intolerance & stereotype. The self-conscious graciousness in the offer of the compliment does not extend to, is not shared by, the compliment’s object (Clarence Thomas or Dinesh d’Souza or Ann Coulter aside). This may hurt, if ever you’ve offered such a compliment only to be rebuffed, and even many full-blown racists are stung to be recognized as such—but them’s the breaks. To grant approbation to that one black-man-who-isn't-really-"black" is to reject even that rare prodigy or ideal specimen--a kind of socio-political "observer's effect"...

With regard to what I said regarding work, housing, health care, and so on: I meant to say that those things ARE the sum of race, of being "black." And a call for transcendence of differences in skin color/tone, or for a bridge between "cultures" doesn't approach the plain reality of American racism, which is all in the numbers. Differences in color, dress, speech, mores or whatever mean nothing when compared with matters such as zoning, Congressional districts & budgeting, environmental issues, bank lending patterns, quality of health care, policing, etc. I think that it is only at the level of those things that talk about "race" becomes more than a discourse on angels on the head of a pin.