Did you hear the one about the journalist who walked into a rural diner? The white people there sounded so much like the multiracial people at the city diner that he turned on talk radio in despair.
The only exaggeration in that characterization of G. Wayne Miller’s front-page story in the Sunday Providence Journal is the assumption of despair on his part. Judging from the direct quotes from people in a Pawtucket diner and a Burrillville diner, Rhode Islanders’ attitude about the racial makeup of the patrons in each is that the people who live near the Pawtucket one happen to have darker skin than the ones who live near the Burrillville one.
Sorry, G. You’re going to have to live with this as your money quote:
But criticize some do, sometimes subtly, sometimes with bigotry. During the ride back to the city, a caller to a Rhode Island radio talk show wants to know why “only blacks riot” when they believe they have been wronged.
Notice that Mr. Miller doesn’t say what radio show he was listening to or what day he heard the comment, much less the name and location of the caller, which talk hosts typically announce, or to provided context for the three-word quotation.
Let’s give the reporter the benefit of the doubt, though, that he actually did hear a talk radio caller say that. What can we learn from it?
Well, the first lesson may be that the greatest source of racial division in America today is the news media. News organizations are the ones plucking incidents from around a country of over 300 million people to create a narrative that puts race front and center. (The Providence Journal, for example, ran a front-page article on August 19 with the headline, “Autopsy: Brown’s hands may have been up,” but if there was a similarly prominent article supporting evidence of the officer’s side in the Michael Brown shooting, I missed it.)
Miller’s article is part 3 of a lengthy attempt by the Providence Journal to make race an issue after the Baltimore riots. Given the timing of the series, it doesn’t take too much imagination to infer that the series is a liberal-media version of the talk-radio caller’s question.
The second lesson should probably be that the way in which elites have restricted us to talking about race only encourages division. Miller doesn’t give any indication that he’s interested in why the talk-radio caller might have the perception he does, or in investigating whether there’s some basis for it. (It’d be interesting to investigate, for example, whether there’s any culturally significant relationship between race riots and sports riots.)
Miller simplistically attributes the perception to bigotry. Perhaps it is, and perhaps it’s not. I’m not as able as a mainstream journalist, apparently, to peer into people’s souls over the airwaves. But starting with the assumption of bigotry, while on a quest to find just that, is a destructive way to kick off discussion about race.
Wouldn’t it be better to encourage self-expression and then, in a friendly, respectful way, start challenging assumptions? That would only be the wisest course of action, I guess, if the objective were to heal old wounds and take race off the table as an issue in the United States.