Nearly a quarter of a century ago, then-President Bill Clinton called for a national conversation about race. Since then, we haven't shut up.
The question is whether much of value is being said. Of course, a conversation presupposed a dialogue rather than a series of monologues being shouted at one another in direct competition. Not much gets heard above the din.
Most of the time, this merely leads to further division in an era of bad feelings. Sometimes, the consequences turn deadly. That's what led President Biden to have to engage in a somber discussion of race. Some thought he should have gone further in calling prominent people out for their racial rhetoric. Others don't think the man who accused Republicans of plans to "put y'all back in chains" has the credibility to preach racial unity.
There is a growing trend on the right to view fearlessness in the face of accusations of racism as a badge of courage. Think back to the Tea Party-era placard that said, "No matter what this sign says, you'll call it racist." That can be true. It can also lead you in bad directions.
That's not because there is any shortage of examples of progressives weaponizing accusations of racism in ways that range from the counterproductive to grifting and absurd. It's not at all clear that the woke expansion of what it means to be racist has done anything to make the more broadly shared definition — racial hatred — less common. Neither the Buffalo murderer nor the Brooklyn subway shooter needed to augment their bigotry with institutional power to achieve their heinous acts, suggesting limits to the explanatory power of fashionable liberal theories about race.
Performative wokeness often ignores the very people in whose name it claims to speak. Performative anti-political correctness sits uneasily alongside hopes of a new multiracial working-class conservatism. There is a way to talk about race that might benefit the country more than the yammering that has dominated to date: thoughtfully — and carefully.