THROUGH THE FIRE: What Is a Traditional America?

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trishamurakawaBy TRISHA MURAKAWA

Thank Verizon for putting that little rewind button on my remote control. On Nov. 7, 2012, I was home watching the election returns and flipped over to Fox News to hear what they had to say about the election.

I watched for a while. They were reporting the expected victories in the states where polls had closed and the returns were coming in. Then Bill O’Reilly did it. He said the words out loud that in his mind he must have been telling himself to justify why he expected President Obama to win re-election.

But his reasoning is so blatantly racist and his words made such an impact on me that I had to write them down.

It’s not a traditional America anymore. And the voters, many of them feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama; overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate between the two is going to give them things.

— Bill O’Reilly, Nov. 7, 2012

My first thought – what the bleep is a “traditional America”? I wish O’Reilly would have spelled it out for me. Did he mean a “white male America”? That’s what it sounded like after he brought race and gender up, before saying in his next breath that people want and feel entitled to “stuff” and that only one of the candidates would give “stuff” out to people who feel the economic system is “stacked against” them.

I wish O’Reilly would have just explained the reasons he was disappointed that his preferred candidate didn’t win the election instead of bringing race and gender up.

I have to wonder if O’Reilly went immediately to race and gender as a means to create a gap to build a bigger base of power for himself (and those similar to him) and to make an excuse for why his candidate lost. Regardless of the reason, the bottom line is that the president’s race and the race of voters mattered that night to O’Reilly or he wouldn’t have brought it up.

More than two years later, race still matters but it seems it has been mostly discussed in the context of police brutality of late because of several highly publicized police shootings of African Americans. Of course there are many other examples of why race matters, but they have either been overshadowed or not elevated to public debate.

In the 1990s, there was much more discussion about race and community than there is now, and in 1997, President Bill Clinton even created the President’s Initiative on Race, the “One America Initiative” to encourage open discussion about race as a means to bring people together, create more understanding between communities, and bridge gaps in our large and diverse country.

Though the initiative was short-lived, the issues of race and racism in neighborhoods, communities and the larger society were discussed openly at town hall meetings, conferences, in op-eds, sermons, in offices and at dinner tables all around the country.

Since the 1990s, many of the gaps indeed were bridged, but that’s not to say race doesn’t still matter today. It does.

Here in California, while we have made strides to have a more diverse State Legislature and half of the 12 constitutional officers are not part of the dominant culture, I am confident in saying that there is a lack of racial (and gender parity) and gaps still exist between the races in other segments of our society, be they college campuses, executive floors (a.k.a. the C-Suite) and corporate board rooms, editorial review boards, and in entertainment in front of and behind the camera, just to name a few. In fact, just last week after the nominees for the Academy Awards were announced, there was a loud murmur of complaints because all the nominees for the high-profile awards are white.

We, on our own, should continue these important dialogues of race in our homes, schools, supermarkets, churches and other gathering places. Through these informal discussions, we learn, are educated and corrected and form alliances, bonds and relationships. And we are enriched as persons.

Some of us have evolved a bit since the 1990s and don’t need a presidential initiative to encourage us to initiate non-threatening yet productive and substantive informal dialogues about race without making people feel uncomfortable by launching in to a diatribe or using terms like “traditional America.”

We need to continue these discussions, continue learning about each other and moving our democracy forward so we all can succeed and get along.

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Trisha Murakawa is a strategic communications and public affairs consultant based in Redondo Beach. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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