Race and Gender: Politics' New 'Third Rail'

Al Sharpton, that paragon of tolerance and measured response, is angry–incensed, actually–with Pennsylvania Governor (and Hillary Clinton supporter) Ed Rendell, who dared suggest some white voters were probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate. He’s also angry/incensed with former vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro for saying, “If [Barack] Obama was a white man he would not be in this position,” adding she would not have been chosen as Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984 if she were a male. For her sins, she has been ousted from her position on Hillary Clinton’s finance committee and forced to go stand in a corner of Democratic purgatory.

So what’s the problem with these remarks? Does Sharpton believe not one white voter out of the 72% who voted for Clinton in the recent Mississippi primary did so because he simply wouldn’t vote for a black man? And does he think not one black voter of the 91% who voted for Obama did so solely because of that same fact? If he really does believe those things are true, then Rendell and Ferraro are wrong, all is well with race in America, and the good Reverend can close shop and go back to whatever it is he used to do. Don’t hold your breath for that one; I suspect the leases on his offices are long-term.

The Left’s obsession with politically correct speech is pushing us into a extremely dangerous corner where the very acknowledgment of race or gender is, on its face, proof positive of the speaker’s racism or misogyny. However, the plain fact is, race and gender do matter. They matter in ways both large and small, both admirable and repugnant. All aspects of a human being matter in all walks of life. It helps to be a Mormon running for office in Utah. It helps to be tall if you’d like to be an NBA center. It helps to be loud and outrageous if you want microphones thrust in front of your face every time you open your mouth in front of your offices with the long-term leases.

I would never presume to speak for Dr. Martin Luther King, but I have to believe his dream of a colorblind society did not mean we were not allowed to notice racial (or gender) differences, but we were not to let those differences blind us to the person within.

The truth is, we have made great strides in this country when it comes to equal opportunities regardless of race or gender. There is, one can argue, more progress to be made, but we’re not going to get there if the very subject has become the “third rail” of politics. Unless, of course, Sharpton really meant what his criticisms seemed to imply: race is no longer an issue in America. In that case, I’ll stop talking about it — if he will.