John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


A Civil Conversation?

Posted on June 26, 2013

George Zimmerman.  Paula Deen.  The Supreme Court.  Immigration Reform.

Can we have a healthy discussion about race and ethnicity in this country?

We are about to find out.

The media loves this stuff.  It loves to pick at the scabs of racial animosity because that helps to sell newspapers, boost ratings and drive web traffic.

MSNBC will have wall-to-wall coverage of the Zimmerman trial.  It is a constant feature in their daily and nightly shows.

The facts of the case are fairly routine.  There was a scuffle and somebody got shot.  It happens every day in America, usually multiple times a day.

Only because the race of the defendant is white (well, in this case Hispanic/white), while the race of the victim is black, does the media really, really care about the case so deeply.   Imagine if the shooter were black.  Would anyone care?  Not really, because that happens just about every hour of the day.

Matt Drudge has made a living picking at the scabs of racial animosity.  You can’t go on his website without him having at least one link of black kids either rioting or breaking into some store.

He knows that people (especially in his demographic) want to see this kind of news, and he is only too willing to serve it to them.

Paula Deen only adds some frosting to the cake, so to speak.

Apparently, she is a great chef, if you don’t care about your arteries.

I never watched her show, and I don’t really need any help adding some weight to my already robust frame, so I don’t really know much about her.

But we are going to learn a whole lot more about her attitudes towards black people.

She was once held at knife point by a black man.  Nothing makes a person scream racial epithets more than being held at knife point.

But she is not the victim here and her attitudes towards a more nostalgic view of the antebellum era are misplaced.  Things were not better down South when slaves were routinely beaten, when African men were forcibly separated from their spouses, when the forcible rape of slave women was common, when a whole economic system was built on the exploitation of a certain class of human beings who treated about as well as the dairy cows.

Paula Deen let slip on several occasions that the good old days weren’t nearly as bad as many might believe.   That ain’t right.

She was called on it and she should have been.  She should be forced to learn the history of her region.  In fact, that should be her next television show:   “Paula Deen Confronts the Past.”

The Today show has been central to telling this story, which of course, has been good for its ratings.  I assume at some point there will be a Lifetime movie on the Rise and Fall of Paula Deen.

The Supremes threw more gasoline on the fire with a decision to strike a piece of the Voting Rights Act.    They cited the fact that black turnout was higher than white turnout in parts of the Old Confederacy in the last election as evidence that the Federal government doesn’t necessarily have to keep those states on the watch list.

I am somewhat sympathetic to that sentiment, but I am not necessarily comfortable with the idea that things are exactly hunky-dory with the current state of racial politics in those regions.

More than any other time in our history, racial politics has broken down along partisan lines.  African Americans voted overwhelmingly Democratic while whites vote overwhelmingly Republican.  The temptation to tinker with the voting process in pursuit of partisan gain can be overwhelming.  Add in the racial element, and it can be combustible.

America is changing, and the immigration debate that has overtaken the Congress has exposed the stresses that come from change.

We are not a black and white country.  We never really have been, although there has always been a temptation to see issues through that prism.

George Zimmerman is not only white.  Barack Obama is not only black.

Immigration reform isn’t about securing the border, although many politicians use it as an excuse to oppose any path to citizenship.  What many Americans don’t want is to reward those who are here illegally with a path to getting welfare benefits.  They would rather have undocumented workers work in the shadows, have them drive down labor costs, and greatly enhance the chances of them being exploited than countenance even the possibility that a path to citizenship will result in more people being on welfare.

That may or may not be a legitimate concern.  But whether it is legitimate or not, it is the emotion that is driving this debate.

America is changing.  I think it is changing for the better and I think America’s finest days are ahead of us.  I don’t think we should feel nostalgic for a by-gone era, nor do I think we keep picking at the scabs of racial resentment.

We should have a discussion about what it means to be an American, how we all have to respect one another for who we  are and who we represent, how we all have a personal responsibility to take care of ourselves and not rip off the system, how we all don’t have like each other, but we all have to respect that America is a big country, with many different communities, and races and religions and political beliefs and that at the end of the day, we are all in this country together and it only really works well when we listen to one another and not get carried away with what we read on the Internet or watch on television.