NYT Columnist Frank Bruni Explains Why He Should Be Allowed to Participate in Conversations of Race in America
On a daily basis I consume a significant amount of political news and I’m always looking for the hot button topics and issues. Among some of my most watched news and business outlets including CNBC, CNN, Bloomberg, and Charlie Rose, one of my favorite shows to watch for the diverse spread of guests and perspectives is Real Time with Bill Maher. If you aren’t aware Bill Maher is a comedian and political commentator and host of his own show Real Time with Bill Maher which is now in it’s 15th season on HBO. The show airs on Friday nights. While watching episode 435 that aired on August 25th with Rev. Jesse Jackson, Democratic Strategist Paul Begala, Policy commentator Nayyera Haq, and Matt Welch who is the Editor-at-Large of the reason.com, my attention was drawn to another guest on the show that brought up an interesting topic on race conversations, and race relations for that matter. The guest was New York Times columnist Frank Bruni who also appeared on the panel and was asked about a column he had recently written dated August 12th in the New York Times titled, “I’m a White Man. Hear Me Out.”
Not only is Frank white, but he’s also gay. Notwithstanding that, I wanted to write about his perspective and I hope that with him being gay that it doesn’t cause you to linger too far off of my position with his article.
I thought his argument was interesting in many ways so I read his column after watching his exchange with Bill Maher.
Consider the below excerpt as he explains the unfairness that whites receive when they comment on race issues:
So, there are 2 things here:
- If you’re a white man you can’t comment on anything race related.
- The issues of race shouldn’t be confined to one minority groups racial difficulties–i.e. “Identity Politics”
The point taken from his perspective is that because society–as he has termed it–has “auto-assigned” him a category of being a white person of privilege, he feels that this category automatically disqualifies him from participating in any conversations on race or even commenting in anything race related with other groups on the socio-economic and class ladder.
Well, class and socio-economics is what this society is engineered on but moving on…
He goes on to say that he is against the idea that he or other whites are not allowed in the conversation of race because, well… he’s white and his skin color assumes that he can’t relate.
Frank understands that he is white and he is very well aware that certain privileges come with that. He argues that his “category” does not speak to anything about his character and that people should look pass this and understand him as a person.
He cites an example of this kind of divisiveness that comes with this mindset in another article that he published titled, The Campus Inquisitions must Stop which is also on the New York Times. The article discusses an incident that occurred at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.
At Evergreen University there is a yearly event called A Day of Absence where an entire day is dedicated to racial healing for black students. Black students typically leave campus to have discussions and events centered around race and diversity.
However on this particular day Professor Bret Weinstein, a biology teacher, suggested a change to this yearly event where he asked that white students be allowed to leave instead.
In an email to the event organizer he said that he saw “a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles” and that same group “encouraging another group to go away.”
“The first is a forceful call to consciousness,” he says. “The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.” He goes on to say, “on a college campus, one’s right to speak — or to be — must never be based on skin color.”
When he said this he was demeaned and called a racist and a white supremacist. This was the premise in Bruni’s column, which points out that people should be allowed to bring up points of concern in a debate on race issues without confronting negative slurs and slander.
When a reader commented on the article concerning this they responded, “He’s white, he’ll be fine.”
Bruni suggests that this is divisive and resembles the kind of rhetoric that does not advance the conversation on race forward in a progressive and positive way–I agree, to an extent.
He also says that there are good people out there–white people I’m assuming–that would like to have a conversation about race without feeling as if they will be attacked for expressing their views.
So How Should We Approach Conversations on Race?
I love this quote by Democratic Strategist Paul Begala during the segment…
Republicans win by dividing, Democrats win by bringing people back together. @PaulBegala, Democratic Strategist
Click to tweet
One way to look at this is to approach it from a perspective of understanding. Minorities, people of color, blacks, Muslims, etc. want to be understood. I don’t believe participation in such a conversation has value merely from the angle of just being allowed into the conversation just because you’re white.
For myself, I can tell you that I am a person of color that believes in an all-inclusive debate or conversation on race. I am definitely progressive in thought when it comes to these issues and if we really think deeply about this, Bruni has a point.
If you want race relations to improve in America then one group who feels oppressed should not take the position that the other racial group can’t participate in that conversation if they aren’t a participant in the oppresion.
Essentially, if you aren’t black it’s a non-starter for most people of color.
It’s also the reason why some will argue, “Hey, how come they don’t have a White history month?” and I get that argument too!
But here’s the rub…
While I’m certain that people of color can appreciate other races–particularly whites–coming to the table of conversation when it comes to racial inequality in America, often times the conversations aren’t welcome because people of color don’t see the benefit in it.
And while Frank Bruni believes that his voice and other whites voices are important, not all people of color see it that way and not all whites agree with Bruni point either.
Bruni may well be in the minority of whites that probably believe that the conversation on race can be progressed and advanced if he or any other white person is allowed to participate. Maybe people of color don’t see it that way and it’s not that they’re against Bruni, but they’re against the system of oppression that wasn’t setup to oppress Bruni.
Hence, “he’s white, he’ll be fine.” Unfortunate, but somewhat true.
So again, the question always becomes why should we listen to you?
Why do you even feel justified in participating in a conversation that doesn’t involve discussion of your rights being taken away, your being discriminated, and your being oppressed and judged because of your race?
Can we say that white people are oppressed in this country? I would say yes depending on your perspective. I know there are whites living in rural areas of the country that make less than the median average income that feel that they are being discriminated against because of their socio-economic status.
They suffer from poverty and income inequality just likes people of color, and while I can’t compare and contrast what a person of color experiences in terms of oppression and discrimination with someone who is white that lives in rural America, the fact is this… The oppression of black people is very different than that of racial groups and for all intents and purposes unique to the history of this country.
In the same way women fought their way through the suffrage movement, blacks fought their way through the civil rights movement, and the LGBT fought their way for equal rights of protection under the law, every minority group has their own struggle and story.
Now, should I want to participate in discussion of oppression and discrimination of Muslims? I don’t think so…
I’ve never been asked by a Muslim person to participate in their conversations and debates and as a person of color I can definitely identify with some aspects of discrimination that they’ve experienced, but I would never go to a Muslim person and say…
“Hey, you know we are on the same team right?”
That doesn’t even sound right, and I welcome open discussions on the topic of race but it isn’t often that people of color are being included and invited to tables on Frank Bruni’s side. Feel free to challenge me on that by the way.
It’s often that people are scratching and clawing their way to even get a seat a certain tables but Bruni is suggesting that he and other’s should be able freely participate in open discussions about race.
There is so much that is not being said in his article and while I appreciate his perspective I’m wondering if Frank is making this argument as it pertains to black people only, or would he have this same perspective with any other minority group?
Furthermore, while I agree that an open and honest dialogue can be a path to healing race relations in this country, I also believe the conversation on race is far too complex to boil down to the idea that race relations can be moved forward if we just allow one group an open voice into another groups racial woes.
Feel free to challenge me on these ideas.
Please read my previous blog post below.