America tells itself a story about its history with race, and the story is that it has a history with race, abuses that were long ago corrected by brave civil rights reformers and courageous politicians. But there's a present with race, too. We're just much better at ignoring it. And it's a tremendous indictment of our media that, given an opportunity, to push forward on that discussion, they made an affirmative decision to focus back in on the campaign. You wonder if Wolf Blitzer and Candy Crowley and all the rest got into journalism believing that, one day, they would decide to suppress a potentially historic and important conversation on race in order to talk about polling.I'm not sure this is really fair. First off, is there really a storybook version of civil rights that says we've overcome all our race problems in America? If there is, I haven't heard it. Even the most hardcore conservatives don't generally pretend that racism is a thing of the past (though they mostly don't want to do anything about it in the present), and liberals talk about it regularly. So does the media, both print and TV. It's not a nonstop topic of conversation, but it's hardly ignored, and it's never presented as a thing of the past. Just to give a couple of recent high-profile examples, the New York Times won a Pulitzer for its yearlong "How Race is Lived in America" in 2001 and the Washington Post spent half of 2006 on its "Being a Black Man" series. Last year, The Race Beat won the Pulitzer in history. In 2005, the LA Times won it in the Public Service category for its series about King/Drew medical center.
As for the media focusing back in on the campaign, well, there is a big campaign going on right now. And Barack Obama, the guy at the center of that campaign, can easily keep race front and center if he chooses to. If he does, the media will follow. If he doesn't, the media will follow that too. But 24-hour cable news, for better or worse, isn't really well suited to deep introspection on complex social issues. It's well suited to covering breaking news and then chattering inanely about it, and that's how it covers just about every subject. Race is hardly being singled out here.
Acutally, if there's a real media myth about race, I'd say it's this peculiar suggestion that everyone thinks we've put race behind us. But no one thinks that. That's why we keep talking about it. The real problem isn't lack of talk, it's the fact that there's next to no agreement about what we ought to do about it. So maybe, in addition to poetic, nuanced, courageous, deeply honest speeches on the subject, Barack Obama could keep the spotlight on race by telling us what our next steps ought to be. He's got a start here.
But that's not on the agenda, apparently. It's back to the campaign, which today features "one of its harshest, most negative attacks yet" on Hillary Clinton. Hey, there's a primary coming up.