The inauguration of the first black president of the United States capped off a year of national attention to race. From the contentious South Carolina Primary to then–candidate Obama’s historic race speech at the National Constitution Center in March 2008, the year was filled with moments when were focused on the racial significance of the events unfolding around us.
We can’t deny that something important has shifted in the last year. But what is it? How have the exciting, historic events affected, if at all, the reality of continuing racial discrimination and inequity on the ground in so many of our cities? Can we identify and accept that there has been real racial progress in our country? Do we fear acknowledging this fact? How do we continue to mobilize support to address racism and inequity when so many are enthused and optimistic about the new and hopeful racial moment? What is the new language of race?
Although national events and issues may shape our views about race, our most significant racial interactions are not those on the national stage. They play out in our families, on our jobs and in our communities, where racial tension and misunderstanding remain untouched by the soaring rhetoric and promise of events on the national stage.
OSI-Baltimore is sponsoring a series exploring how we talk about race in an effort to deepen and broaden our conversations about race in Baltimore. It’s been my experience that here in Baltimore we talk about race all the time–but often not explicitly and often not to each other. Coded language of crime, failing schools, responsible parents, and inner-city neighborhoods often mask very real and explicit conversations we should be having about race, poverty, and opportunity in our city.
I’m excited that this Thursday my cousin Gwen Ifill and I will be having a public conversation about race here in Baltimore City. Gwen is the managing editor of Washington Week, a senior correspondent for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and the author of the penetrating new book “Breakthrough: Politics & Race in the Age of Obama.” And as a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun with years of experience in our beloved city, she knows Baltimore. Please join us for one in a series of conversations about race sponsored by OSI-Baltimore.