By Orson Aguilar
As the presidential campaign approaches the home stretch, it’s time for President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney to play the race card.
We need a healthy discussion of race in America, and we aren’t getting it.
What we’ve gotten so far from the candidates is, frankly, pathetic. The Romney campaign has put out misleading ads about welfare that carefully tiptoe around race while playing on common white misperceptions about blacks and welfare. Some Democrats have complained, but have added little that was constructive to the discussion.
And from the president, we’ve heard ... almost nothing.
That may be what’s most surprising. In 2008, when the controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright threatened his campaign, Obama gave an eloquent speech about race. But since he took office, and most noticeably during the current campaign, his silence has been eerie and disheartening.
We need better than this from the men who wish to lead our nation. We need constructive dialogue about issues that both major-party candidates have ignored.
For example, recent data from the Census Bureau show that 48 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the racial wealth gap not only continues, it’s growing. For every dollar of wealth a white family owns, the median Asian family has about 63 cents, the median Latino family has 7 cents and the median black family has less than a nickel. People of color are less likely than whites to own their own homes — another gap that is growing, not shrinking — and have been hurt worst by the foreclosure crisis.
Why is this, Mr. President? How will you address it, Mr. Romney? Americans of all races deserve to hear from the candidates as to why they believe this is the case, and what they would do about it. No bland generalities, please, and no carping about the other side “playing the race card” if you don’t have the guts to talk about race honestly.
Both candidates also need to explain how they would heal the racial and ethnic divisions in our country, divisions that seem to be growing.
Last year, The Greenlining Institute analyzed data from the American National Election Panel Survey, the leading academic survey of U.S. political attitudes, and found that white and black Americans live in almost different worlds. Fifty-nine percent of African-Americans saw “a lot” of racial discrimination in U.S. society, compared to just 16 percent of whites. While a solid majority of blacks felt the federal government treats whites better than blacks, only 9 percent of whites felt that way.
Look at the stark racial and gender divide in the presidential poll numbers. One candidate seems to be the candidate of white men and the other the choice of women and people of color. Candidates: Why do you think this is? Is it healthy? If you win, how will you manage to govern in this polarized climate?
Please, gentlemen, play the race card. But for once, do it honestly and without fear.
Orson Aguilar is executive director of The Greenlining Institute (www.greenlining.org ). He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune.
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