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Columbia Missourian

COLUMN: Rather than another dialogue, how about accountability for racist remarks?

By William E. "Gene" Robertson
August 30, 2010 | 4:34 p.m. CDT

Attorney General Eric Holder has called for a dialogue on race. President Obama has spoken out on race as though the country needed to be reminded of the significance of race.

We appear to have adequate laws regarding race. The younger generations appear to be reasonably addressing race. Some have even assumed a post-racial environment to exist after the election of Obama.


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When we have outbursts that have racial implications, many want racial dialogues, forums and retreats on race. I think we need responses to divisive expressions.

I presume that we don’t understand that particular issue. I presume we do understand race, class, religion, sexual orientation, parenthood, the environment, economics, health and war enough for laymen. The problem misses the mark by assuming we are ignorant of the issues. 

We should not minimize the importance of race and other issues impacting us but we can't dismiss those who use them to push our emotional buttons and undermine our good sense and respect for humanity.  What we don’t understand is the range of devious and diabolical manipulations utilized to divide us. There are divisive professionals who will seize upon any issue that is offered to conveniently manipulate fear and divisiveness. If educational resources are needed, they ought to be directed toward teaching us how to appropriately address the manipulations of the charlatans who seek to get us riled up by pushing emotional buttons. Some will go to extreme measures to address their greed, power hunger, status or even celebrity.

The implementation of any behaviors toward issues like race should occur at the local level. Issues that we focus on at the local level ought to be issues that share some commonality rather than differences, e.g. jobs, education, housing and public safety. The emphasis should be on community rather than on one group. Different groups may advocate for their particular interests within that context.  While we work for our common good we are better able to tolerate our differences.

It is through interacting together at the contact level that people learn to appreciate differences and suppress divisive, destructive thoughts and actions. At that level we can learn how differences will positively or negatively affect our quality of life.  We must hold our leaders, businesses and other entities accountable for the professional manipulators who may have been enlisted to act in their interest. We cannot be apathetic. This needs our attention and remedies. Our leaders and media must also be held accountable for knee-jerk statements, which have long-term impacts in our communities.

If dialogue is needed, it should be about strategies and countermeasures to address and minimize the influence of lobbyists and other influential groups who  encourage those who use fear regarding race and the myriad array of issues to agitate. Let us learn to better assess our local situation and determine what is impacting our lives and who and what makes them better.

We must enlist those who can help in meaningful ways to develop and nurture relationships at the local level. We will then be able to mutually reap the benefits of our diversity. We must be ever vigilant against those who would seek to destroy the positive relationships we have worked to develop. It's not a race dialogue we need. We need a dialogue on those who misuse race.

"When people learn no tools of judgment and merely follow their hopes, the seeds of political manipulation are sown." —Stephen Jay Gould

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU.