February 27, 2009
We all experience moments of excruciating embarrassment. Sometimes, comments so mortifying fall out of our mouths that there is no way to save face. We pray that our tongue would suddenly grow a rewind button, or for Harry Potter''s "Cloak of Invisibility," or that anyone listening has suddenly been struck deaf. None of these things are very likely. Stupid comments are so common there is even a shorthand term for it, "Open mouth, insert foot."
Most of us make gaffs in social situations. Our friends can be quite forgiving, understanding what we really meant. Or, perhaps, turning the remarks into one of those you-had-to-be-there sort of funny stories. Imagine how horrifying to do this on a national stage. Attorney General Eric Holder must have a pretty good idea of how that feels.
In a speech for African-American history month he called us a "nation of cowards," because of a lack of dialogue on the subject of race. This comment hurt, especially, I imagine, in Mississippi, with our very complicated racial history.
It must be a lofty feeling to occupy such an important position. He is male-model handsome, with a bushy mustache that only he and Wilford Brimley can carry off. (Even Tom Selleck and Alex Trebeck shaved those off more than 20 years ago.) We have gotten past the idea that "pretty" equals "dumb." But, once in a while, those old clichés have a ring of truth.
In the speech he says," We work with one another, lunch together ... socialize with one another fairly well ... " But, "... average Americans simply do not talk with each other about race."
Why should we? There are members of my family that we "simply do not talk about." That doesn''t mean we do not accept them and love them. Certainly, we share lunch, or "socialize." It''s just that there is no need to rehash ancient history.
Mississippi, of all the states, gets the worst ink about racism. I wish everyone in the rest of the country could see it as I did. As a new resident to Columbus, my husband and I were amazed at the lack of friction between the races. No thanks to the national press.
Everyone, it seems, in "The Friendly City" gets along well. The most impressive thing was the courtesy of the teens. Black or white, they say "Yes, ma''am" and "Yes, sir." They are not frightening to us, as their New Orleans counterparts were.
We have black leaders on every level of government. We are side-by-side in school, in church, in industry. What is there to talk about?
A nation of cowards? I believe that Americans, particularly Mississippi-Americans are living a life of heroism and dignity. Integration was accepted so very long ago that now even the term sounds archaic.
Our state is a grand dame with a shady past. (Doesn''t every interesting adult have one?) However, our present is bright. We, and the rest of the nation, are looking forward to a future with our new First Family, and our color-blind voting record.
Eric Holder urges all of us, "... to talk with friends and co-workers on the other side of the divide about racial matters."
I''ve got a better idea. Let''s talk about art, and music, or your children''s softball games. Race is old-hat boring. Let''s drink coffee, or wine. Let''s gossip on my front porch. But, please, let''s not talk about race.
You are a handsome man, Eric Holder (love the retro mustache!). However, here in Mississippi, we are looking toward the future. If you like, I will send you a bottle of great local barbecue sauce to make that foot in your mouth more palatable.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina. E-mail reaches her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.