That fact was clear last week when comedian and radio host Adam Carolla attempted to discuss the topic with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., on Carolla’s radio show. Their back-and-forth shifted to race when Newsom began discussing minimum wage, economic inequality and the effect of the still-sour economy on Americans’ pocketbooks.
“I want everyone to plan. Look down the road six months,” Carolla reportedly told Newsom. “Yes they foreclosed on your home. That’s why you need to have a network, a community, friends, family members, money put away. Don’t have the kids.”
“Think about it, Adam,” Newsom responded. “Half of African Americans in the state of California, and roughly half of Latino families, have no access to a checking account or an ATM.”
Carolla next tried to open the door to that ever-elusive honest debate on race with four simple, unvarnished words: “What’s wrong with them?”
“I want to know why those two groups don’t have access. Are they flawed?” he asked. “ ... Do Asians have this problem? Why do so many [blacks and Latinos]? Blacks have been here longer than we have. What about Asians — they were put in internment camps. Are they at the check cashing places?”
Newsom told Carolla blacks remain impacted by their racial history, saying it was naive of the radio host to think the black community’s past struggles no longer play a role in their lives.
“How about the Jews?” Carolla asked. “No problems in the past? Who’s had it worse? Why are the Jews doing well? ... Why do some groups do so much better? I’ll tell you why: They have a family who puts an emphasis on education. ... The family is the No. 1 problem in the black community. ... It’s simple. Fathers, stay at home, raise your family, do your homework with your kids, put an emphasis on education like the Jews, like the Asians, and let’s see what happens to the problem in 20 years.”
And he’s right. Race and how Americans deal with it are very complex issues — but they are made far more complicated than needed because people fear discussing them.
Carolla, for his part, was labeled a racist after the exchange by cable TV talking heads and folks on the Internet. Though his comments were unvarnished, they raised thought-provoking questions.
Therein lies the problem for some.
Many newsmakers, movers and shakers, it seems, aren’t really interested in talking about race (or resolving race-related problems). They’re far more interested in using such issues to their own advantage. Race as a divisive, wedge issue is too useful and effective of a political tool to lose. The wounds it causes come in too handy in a war of words — especially when seeking to end debate.
And that’s the beauty of a taboo topic. It ends conversations — often conveniently, but always without a real resolution.
Toss the word “racist” into a debate about immigration, for example, and the discussion comes to a screeching halt. Criticize Obama on certain topics, and celebrity supporters like Morgan Freeman and Samuel L. Jackson say a black man in the White House has you blinded by hate.
No one wants to be called a racist. So most stay silent.
And it’s difficult to be honest when you’re afraid to speak.
— Tommy Felts, managing editor