Moderate Moment | Moderate Moms

Productive versus Unproductive Conversations

July 22, 2013  |  Share

Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post 

On Friday, President Obama delivered some powerful remarks about the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial and the Trayvon Martin case, in which he noted:

You know, there has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.

The whole speech is worth a watch, and a read, but this especially sticks out.

And, of course, how did people respond? With stilted, politicized shouting that indicated that we were locked into the positions we already have.

Former representative Joe Walsh tweeted that “President Obama is making this all about race. All. About. Race.” Breitbart.com’s Ben Shapiro called the whole thing a “ginned up racial melee.” On Fox News, Greg Jarrett posed rhetorical-ish questions about whether the president was running the risk of provoking “even more demonstrations, and let’s hope not, but potential violence.”

National conversations, organized by politicians, seldom work. 

One of the least productive things you can say about any serious question is: “We need to have a national discussion about this.”

As a phrase, “We need to talk” seldom leads anywhere good. When we, as a nation, talk, the conversation that ensues is too often that the people whose job it is to say the wildest, most unhinged things possible to attract viewers say those wild and unhinged things, attract viewers, and no one’s mind changes. The echo chamber echoes. Foam flecks fly. Then we return to our corners. Much of the opinionating, following the trial verdict, seems like a contest of Who Can Shove His Foot Into His Mouth The Fastest? And that’s not what should come out of this.

 

How do you have a productive conversation about something as difficult as this? Where do you have it? With whom? Do you have it in public, in an organized manner, with raising of hands and reading of essays? Do you have a day when you gather everyone as a community to talk about it, the way it sometimes happens on college campuses after Something Happens that merits discussion?

Do you have it with your friends? Your real Friends or your Facebook friends?

One of the strange facts of modern life is how many of our private conversations happen in the quasi-public sphere of the Internet, where one person’s Facebook postcan become one of the most publicized responses to the Zimmerman verdict, and where there is always That One Guy Who Is Always About To Unfriend You Who Writes In All Caps Screeds, ruining any polite discussion you have going on. Private conversations about these things stand a chance of going forward, but when you have to have them with people watching, it becomes harder to listen. As we move from private talks to public and quasi-public discussion, where you’re cadging for Likes and Retweets, it becomes a lot harder to be civil and turns into more Let’s All Shout So That Only People Who Agree Will Focus On What We Have To Say.

But in this regard, the president’s conclusion was also striking:

On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

 

And let me just leave you with — with a final thought, that as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn’t mean that we’re in a postracial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

And so, you know, we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues, and those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days I think have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did, and that along this long, difficult journey, you know, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

 

All right? Thank you, guys.

 

 
 
 
 

 
 
52Comments
 
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snowyb12
 
 
Pathetic politicking at its worst, anything to be the center of notice. How about the self-immolation of 100 Tibetans and sucking up and signing accords with their tormentors? Or Russia”s refusal to go along with wildlife protection in the Antarctic ocean? Naval chief warning of lack of preparedness for military emergencies ( Benghazi)? No, let’s chat about this endlessly? Really? Martin is mourned, but so are many others deserve notice and not by the device of selling product by the media or gaining political points, Another idea; Zimmerman has to live with his guilt forever. Isn’t that enough payback? Recall volunteer firemen starting fires?
 
 
 
 
 
PollyTicks
 
 
The anti-Obama folk are going to dismiss whatever Obama says AS LOUDLY AS POSSIBLE. I probably did the same thing about W but I don’t have a million twits dittoing me, or my own tv “news” channel so who gives a …. 
 
What worried me about Obama’s speech was his reference to “soul searching.” I thought there was SOMETHING that was out of the NSA’s search view. I was wrong.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
My friends and I agreed the president should have zipped his lip and gone back to work. There was no political discussion needed. We agreed the president was pumping up the emotions that should have been allowed to subside.
Liked by 1 reader

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Susan Diekman McFarland
 
 
Okay, everybody just chill–and I mean everybody!! 
 
Conservatives: you miss the whole point of the “remarks” when you latch onto the details of the legal case. If you had been listening all week to professional-level, well-respected and accomplished journalists like Eugene Robinson and Charles Blow, the primeval scream coming from the broad African-American community as a whole concerns the rules of conduct they convey to their sons. As a result of the verdict, all of the rules of conduct all of a sudden got shredded into little tiny pieces and left most members of that community reeling. Mr. Blow put it most poignantly: “Mr. Zimmerman says Mr. Martin was suspicious because he was walking too slow. I’ve always told my son to not run in public. So what pace do I tell my son to walk to avoid drawing suspicion to him?” Ouch! (I’m paraphrasing: check out CNN if you want to see that statement in full. You may disagree with the interpretation of events that night in FL; however, the feelings/emotions are real. Until that is acknowledged by the white community as a whole, we will make no progress. 
 
Progressives: cool the name calling, please!! I know where you’re coming from because I don’t understand the right wing at all; however, when we resort to name-calling, we stoop to their level–and I think most of us are better than that. Instead, we all need to have compassion towards each other, regardless of race and respect above all else. Name-calling is not showing respect.
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Fergie303
7/21/2013 8:29 PM CDT
 
 
Good point ssusan. The problem I have with this piece is your statement that you don’t understand the right wing. I voted for Obama twice, I’m an independent, not right wing. I also understand why the black community may feel that race is involved. However, as an attorney, I know that under florida law the verdict was right based on the evidence. I believe that race was, if at all, only slightly involved, but because you had a police wanabe, and a community recently victimized with crime that white or black, with hoodie, the six foot one “child” (I was once 17 and a month from being in the military to fight and die) would have been followed whether white, black or green. I do understand profiling. But it is based on many more things than just color.
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Thornberry_Walsh
 
 
Way back in January, 2009 I had hoped that the new president would engage, not in conversations on general themes like race, but in a series of FDR-style fireside chats in which he outlined the mos important national problems and what he intended to do about them. The firs ton my list would be climate change,a subject Obama handled very gingerly in his first term, preferring to talk about “green jobs.” Next would have to have been the financial malfesance of the big banks and how they were to be dismantled – But he not only did not direcgtly address the people on the causes of the 08 crash but supervised a giveaway program which allowed the big five to consolidate and vastly increase their power. (see today’s NY Times for details on how Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan now engage in vast manipulations of commodity prices for aluminum, copper, oil…) 
 
The next two chats, as I envisioned them, would have been simply Iraq and Afghanistan in which he answered the simple questions of: why are we there at all? Instead we have had a huge increase in covert schemes that now have Us forces and mercenaries fighting in more countries than ever – and still without any explanation from the president. 
 
So yes, the president spoke eloquently about race but to what end? What does he, in his role as chief executive, recommend in the way of legislation?  
 
Five years later, I am very disappointed in this president. he is no FDR and, if anything, he simply seems to be another iteration of George Bush I, vaguely moderate, rational enough, but without any core values or ideas. Sad, considering the hopes he raised for me and so many millions of other Americans. 
 
Liked by 1 reader

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reformthesystem
 
 
What’s Wapo up to with an opinion piece by a humour columnist about President Obama’s emoting about “race” (referring in reality to African American teenage crime problems except in places like Detroit)?
 
 
 
 
 
Bill, Fairfax VA
 
 
“On Friday, President Obama delivered some powerful remarks…” 
 
Powerful?? Depends on which echo chamber one inhabits. And we all know which one you live in, Ms Petri.
 
 
 
larigot
7/21/2013 8:58 AM CDT
 
 
Yes, bill. Ms. Petri lives in one filled with empathetic humans who care. You, apparently, live in the other one, the one filled with humans (barely) who hate hate hate. You’re a bigot, bill. Admit it and try real hard to improve. Stop listening to fox and rush.
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the_node1
7/21/2013 1:15 PM CDT
 
 
But which of you two resorted to name-calling? Which of you is unable to show empathy for the road the other walks?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Somehow I don’t really think that getting shot by racist white vigilanties is a big cause of death among the American Black population. There are a lot of other risks factors slaughtering and blighting our young black males however. Yet Black folks just went batsh*t over Zimmerman. With the president fanning the hysteria, they transmogrified him from a Hispanic who worked with disadvantaged kids, into a caricature of a southern redneck. They were ready to lynch him and the witch hunt is unending despite his being acquitted. Even now they are still demonstrating and searching for some legal way to “get even”. They need obviously a catharsis. Yet to me this whole thing smells of transference. There is something else that is bugging them and they just cannot bring it to consciousness and articulate what it is. The rage is just getting dumped on little old Zimmerman. He is the scapegoat.
Liked by 5 readers

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Jumper
7/21/2013 9:19 AM CDT
 
 
Some agree somewhat: that the cops and prosecutor just wanting to let Zimmerman walk with no further investigation ties in with a brutalized police state and radical hate, corporatized by ALEC, the Romney crowd, the privatized security goons and too many out-of-control gun merchants.
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Orion838
7/21/2013 9:41 AM CDT
 
 
Yes, and some of those people who wanted to let Zimmerman walk knew that a conviction was impossible, and they wanted to prevent wasting time and taxpayer money on a trial that could not be won.
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Gonzo the Great
7/21/2013 11:04 AM CDT
 
 
And some wanted JUSTICE to win out. 
 
They got their way. 
 
This time.  
 
Next time? Most likely the hate based lynch mob will win as they used to when their Klan would murder with impunity back in their heyday of their solidly democratic South.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
the_node1
7/21/2013 1:23 PM CDT
 
 
And yet Gonzo, more blacks were murdered last year by other blacks than the Klan killed in 150 years. (10000 to @ 3000) I’m no fan of the klan, I’m no fan of any Senator who voted to make a Klansman 4th in line to the President. (Obama & Biden both voted Byrd for Pres. Pro Temp) Your analogy is flawed however when you dismiss the deaths of thousands but focus on crimes 50 years old.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gonzo the Great
7/21/2013 6:54 PM CDT
 
 
the_node1, that was not an analogy, it was a deliberate exaggeration meant to provoke a thought. Who killed more what than anyone else? Who cares, ONE murder is one too many to be tolerated . The lopsidedness of treating ALL race issues as if there were only one race offends my sense of balance.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
abovetheassault
 
 
“Foam flecks fly,” we read within. 
 
Yea , in extremity . .in extreme extremity. Where there’s nonsense and more nonsense. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This prez has always been post-political. 
Too bad there isn’t a critical mass with him yet.
Liked by 1 reader

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Well, I can tell you one thing. You do not have it on comment boards, where those who are proud of their anti-black stances now also have anonymity.
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Here is a productive conversation for Obama…. Next time you text JAYZ why don’t you tap him to help stop the complete erosion of black family values? There are hundreds of very very rich selfish sports figures, rappers, actors, writers who need to give back to their people, instead of taking from them to enrich themselves further.
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Jimbo77
7/20/2013 12:47 PM CDT
 
 
This from a Prez who spent over 20 years in Rev Wright’s Church!
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MadamDeb
7/20/2013 3:19 PM CDT
 
 
Fan of JZ’s songs. are you? Quick, without looking it up, name his fifth album.
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Atomic Kommie Comics
7/21/2013 1:36 AM CDT
 
 
“There are hundreds of very very rich selfish sports figures, rappers, actors, writers who need to give back to their people, instead of taking from them to enrich themselves further.” 
 
I trust you mean 
Robert Downey Jr 
Tom Cruise 
Alex Rodriguez 
Derek Jeter 
and JK Rowling?
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joer2
7/21/2013 7:14 PM CDT
 
 
What do you mean “their people?”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Some of my most productive conversations have been with myself. “Why did I just now see a stereotype instead of a human being, when it is someone who is a stranger to me? Why am I more likely to do this when I am angry, usually about some other thing anyway?”
Liked by 7 readers

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Jumper
7/20/2013 9:50 AM CDT
 
 
And “Does the amount of respect I am willing to give a complete stranger say something about me as a human being?”
Liked by 6 readers

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Andy Womack
7/20/2013 11:13 AM CDT
 
 
Thus far this has been the most productive comment I’ve seen. Thank you.
Liked by 6 readers

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Jumper
7/20/2013 11:30 AM CDT
 
Liked by 1 reader

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Stop paying women of all colors to have kids outside of marriage. Simple.
Liked by 1 reader

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Andy Womack
7/20/2013 11:14 AM CDT
 
 
Simple solution that will appeal to those with simple minds.
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MadamDeb
7/20/2013 3:20 PM CDT
 
 
Yes, because they won’t do it if they don’t get paid? How silly. They’ll just leave the baby on a church doorstep and the state will have to support him until he is 18.
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Virginia Guy
7/20/2013 3:27 PM CDT
 
 
Now that our president has admitted he was a ‘hood rat in traning 35 years ago. 
 
Why doesn’t he comment on tet violence level present tin the black community? 
 
Most blacks are shot by …buckle your seat belt … other blacks. 
 
Despite the relatively easy access to firearms in Virginia we have nothing like the violence levels of Washington, DC or Chicago. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
AliBubba
7/20/2013 10:47 PM CDT
 
 
If you subsidize something, you get more of it. Simple-minded, but true nonetheless.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Atomic Kommie Comics
7/21/2013 1:38 AM CDT
 
 
Virginia Guy whines: 
“Most blacks are shot by …buckle your seat belt … other blacks. ” 
 
Most whites are shot by …buckle your seat belt … other whites. 
Your point, son?
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tohbi
7/21/2013 6:23 PM CDT
 
 
here are some charts showing who’s killing whom; 
 
http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=7168
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Atomic Kommie Comics
7/21/2013 10:47 PM CDT
 
 
I note he had a chart for Blacks killing Whites, but left out a chart for Whites killing Blacks… 
We call that “lying by omission”…
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DirtyOldMan
 
 
“In the south, they don’t care how close you get, as long as you don’t get too big. In the north, they don’t care how big you get, as long as you don’t get too close.” 
 
—Comedian Dick Gregory — (his famous epigram describing northern and southern attitudes toward African Americans)
 
 
 
 
 

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