Before I wrote even a word of this book, a number of people who wished me well suggested I drop the project. They knew the kind of books I’d done in the past, and of my tendency to kid around in print, and they suggested that in this instance that would be a very, very bad idea. As one bluntly put it, “You don’t make light about race in this country.”
That was not my intention, I countered. And what was he talking about, anyway? There are those who make light about race all the time. Richard Pryor built a whole career on it, and so have dozens of his successors and imitators, more than a few of them wildly profane.
Okay, I got it: what they meant is that white people can’t make light about race. Or, for that matter, say things in deadly earnest that violate the ever-evolving rules of what is permissible. And that holds especially true for white conservatives.
I sincerely appreciated it all – I too live in the world of Al Sharpton and The New York Times, if only at its margins – but their concern also provoked a question: Why not? Aren’t the issues surrounding race, from the social fallout of single parent families to the ways racial preferences distort the very meaning of equity and justice as embodied in the nation’s founding documents, of concern to us all? Moreover, hasn’t the impulse to ignore or justify or even celebrate behaviors that once have been everywhere condemned as dysfunctional led to the collapse of standards generally? Indeed, as a reformed white liberal I can say with complete assurance that white liberals share many of the same concerns, even if they’d be mortified to be overheard voicing them among strangers.
Quite simply, the fear and unspoken prohibitions that have long governed the conversation about the single most important issue on the public agenda have served only to undermine genuine progress on the racial front.
And the time has come to move past that.