March 22nd, 2008
An open letter to Pat Buchanan:
Hi Pat, how’s things these days? Don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but there’s this device out there now called the “internet.” An interesting idea: the ‘net can put your words in front of a large audience. In the old days, you could say something relatively inflammatory, even in print, and generally have it read or heard really only by people who already agreed with you or at least shared your basic attitudes. Nowadays, though, someone like, say, Media Matters can pick up one of your columns and distribute it to a very different group of readers, including a few who might not share the assumptions underlying a statement like this, which you wrote yesterday in response to Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright’s now-famous screed:
America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.
Wright ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American.
Now, I’m not going to go into great detail about how I think you might just be missing the point, though I will suggest that perhaps you’d be more persuasive if you considered the question of whether anyone ASKED those “black folks” whether or not they wanted to be brought in chains to the New World, kept in servitude for centuries, stripped of their cultures and their very names and forcibly converted to an alien religion. Oh, and largely trapped in relative poverty and second-class citizenship up until my lifetime, and I ain’t that old. But I digress.
Here’s the thing: when you put your words on the ‘net, you put them in front of everybody, just as Rev. Wright did when he allowed his speech to be videotaped. And in both of your cases, I suspect that you may be misjudging the attitudes and opinions of the majority of your fellow citizens. Before you get annoyed, I’m obviously being a little facetious in presuming to lecture you about the vaguaries of online communications, since you clearly intended to put your column in front of as many people as you could:
Barack says we need to have a conversation about race in America.
Fair enough. But this time, it has to be a two-way conversation. White America needs to be heard from, not just lectured to.
Pat (and I’ll call you Pat, though I don’t believe we’ve met, just as you chose to refer consistently to the junior senator from Illinois in your column by his first name, as one might a servant or subordinate), I find it fascinating and perhaps even just a little racist to see you identifying a monolithic “White America,” in the same way that it’s just a little racist for Rev. Wright to assume a monolithic black American experience.
These days, the internet isn’t a bad model at all for America as a whole: it’s divided, split, separated, fragmented, mixed, mingled and cooked over-easy all at once. “White America,” which you identify with the Nixonian term “Silent Majority,” is no more one community than it worships a single god (I pray only at the altar of Rock And Roll, for instance). It’s from small towns, suburbs, cities and the middle of nowhere; it’s liberal, conservative, radical and none-of-the-above; its parents are straight, gay and confused; it listens to country, rock and roll, Tejano, jazz, classical and hip hop; and its friends, lovers and family are white, black, brown and every shade you can imagine in between. In short, it’s complicated, just as Barack Obama’s speech on race was complicated.
The nice thing about your column, by contrast, is that it’s quite simple and it makes it very easy to see where you’re coming from. I suspect that the millions of Americans who are trying very hard to live lives that revolve around individual people rather than flat stereotypes will be fascinated to read it, and I hope the internet carries your words far and wide. You clearly don’t intend to hide from them, and you wouldn’t be able to anyway — no one controls the modern means of mass communications. Thanks to the ‘net, plenty of us will read what you write, and I suspect that the actual “Silent Majority” will see your column as demonstrating just how out of touch you and those who agree with you are with the reality and difficulty of race in this fair country. For that, I am truly grateful.
Born in New Orleans
Raised in East Texas
Living in the District of Columbia
And you don’t speak for me.
P.S. I notice that you’ve turned off comments on the version of this article on your site. I can only assume that it’s because you’ve already heard from a few people who disagree with you fairly violently. Allow me to apologize for any excesses, though I must admit to being mystified at why you wouldn’t allow a free discussion. I’d hate to think that you don’t want to hear what people who don’t share your opinions have to say. Your old drinking buddy Hunter must be shakin’ his head in heaven.