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Holder's Much Touted Speech on Race Lets White People Off the Hook

Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder blamed personal cowardice for our racial divide, rather than institutionalized inequities.

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That such an image trades on longstanding racist stereotypes is apparent to most folks of color, and yet, most of white America has yawned through the controversy, or worse, accused blacks enraged by the image of hypersensitivity.

Likewise, most whites reacted with unaffected diffidence at the New Year's Day videotape from the Oakland, Calif., subway, in which a white police officer coolly executed a black man by the name of Oscar Grant, despite Grant putting up no resistance, possessing no weapon, and posing no threat to the officer.

On message boards in the Bay Area -- supposedly filled with progressive types, to hear locals tell it -- whites regularly expressed more outrage at protesters demanding justice for the Grant family than at Officer Johannes Mehserle for committing cold-blooded murder.

Sadly, whites are rarely open to what black and brown folks have to say regarding their ongoing experiences with racist mistreatment. And we are especially reluctant to discuss what that mistreatment means for us as whites: namely that we end up with more and better opportunities as the flipside of discrimination. After all, there is no down without an up, no matter how much we'd like to believe otherwise.

It is white denial, as much as anything, that has allowed racial inequity to persist for so long, and it's nothing new.

In the early 1960s, even before the passage of modern civil rights laws, 2 out of 3 whites said blacks were treated equally, and nearly 90 percent said black kids had equal educational opportunity.

As a matter of fact, white denial has a longer pedigree than that, reaching back at least as far as the 1860s, when Southern slave-owners were literally stunned to see their human property abandon them after the Emancipation Proclamation. After all, to the semidelusional white mind of the time, they had always treated their slaves "like family."

Until we address our nation's long history of white supremacy, come to terms with the legacy of that history and confront the reality of ongoing discrimination (even in the "Age of Obama"), whatever dialogue we engage around the subject will only further confuse us and stifle our efforts to one day emerge from the thick and oppressive fog of racism.

For however much audacity may be tethered to the concept of hope, let us be mindful that truth is more audacious still. May we find the courage, some day soon, to tell it.

Tim Wise is the author of the new book, "Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama" published by City Lights.

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