How race is really lived in America

The New York Times assures us that relations between "blacks" and "whites" are "generally good." What about the rest of us?

Published July 13, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

According to the New York Times -- this nation's "newspaper of record," as we are accustomed to call it -- a discussion of U.S. race relations, even at this date, can only mean a discussion of the tensions between descendants of Europe and descendants of Africa.

Most Americans do not read the New York Times. But the Times is the newspaper that reflects and shapes elite liberal thinking, especially on the East Coast. So it is worth noting that, for the last six weeks, the Times has been running a series called "How Race is Lived in America," concerned exclusively with how "whites" and "blacks" perceive one another.

How should we expect the omniscient New York Times to settle all scores? Time and space forbid! But here we are in the new century and it is clear to just about everyone that our country has become Latino and Asian; and miscegenation among races is increasing. With citizens from every corner, America is creating a global society, the first in the world.

The brown future is also our past. Americans, particularly African-Americans -- from Colin Powell to Tiger Woods -- are speaking candidly about their mixed blood and a colonial America the history books never bothered to describe. I mean the marriage of the Indian and the African. And the black-and-white goings-on at Monticello.

Curiously, even while the Times was publishing front-page pieces on black-and-white separations in America, in its Arts and Leisure section one morning, the Times noticed that London is racially mixing: The city is alive with subcontinental Cockneys.

But then New York is crazy about London this season. Gotham is crawling with Brit Twits who know eversomuch about eversomuch. The New York Times will condescend to consider the color brown, as long as it poses in a British accent.

Then, on the Fourth of July, the New York Times proclaimed that California will soon become the first "big state in the nation in which non-Hispanic whites will no longer be the majority." To tell its readers what that might mean, the Times solicited the opinion of three white guys and one nervous gray. Governor Gray Davis was steadfast and refused to panic. After all, "leadership requires one to look on the bright side ..."

These two brown sightings from London and California quickly dissipated. And the Times turned once again to serious concerns.

In article after article, whites were portrayed as being at the very center of contemporary American life. Nice people. Persons of liberal disposition and politics. Rather like the readers of the Times.

So with every article, white readers were reassured that they remain at the center of our national life -- which is exactly where they expect to be.

So nothing was said in the Times about Korean/Mexican relations in L.A. or how (East Asian) Indians are faring in high-tech North Dallas or Haitian-American/African-American relations in Tampa, Fla. Any drama where whites are absent can be of no interest to the New York Times.

Hillary Clinton, who surely reads the New York Times, spoke of a vast right-wing conspiracy in America. The vast liberal conspiracy in America, by contrast, is a benign and relatively harmless business: Each spring, liberals love to give each other brotherhood awards and statuettes.

Surely the Times is in line for something for such breathtaking fatuousness: At the conclusion of its series, the Times found a majority of black and white Americans regard race relations to be "generally good."

The only question that the New York Times did not ask African-Americans is how much longer they will be seduced by liberal white flatteries. A dangerous seduction indeed, especially now, at a time of increasing tension and competition between African-Americans and Hispanics for jobs and position.

I remember, several years ago, during one of the trials of O.J. Simpson, listening to the loud black-and-white conversations on television. I remember looking out the window and seeing the vast, silent brown city going about its business, oblivious.

)2000 Pacific News Service

By Richard Rodriguez

Richard Rodriguez is the author of "Brown: The Last Discovery of America."

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