NORRIS EMERGES: Conversation or lecture?


Norris spots flaws Over There: Should the United States undertake a "national conversation on race?" Also, should we undertake a national conversation of the type Michele Norris is proposing?

The conversation proposed by Norris would be quite extensive; it might last for decades, she says. Also, it seems that this conversation would proceed from the top down. Once again, this is her nugget proposal:

NORRIS (6/6/21): When Barack Obama was first elected president in 2008, there was an expectation that he would lead some kind of national conversation about race. We don’t place the same expectations on White leaders for some reason, but we should. President Biden was in Tulsa to mark the 100-year anniversary of one of the most vicious acts of racial violence in U.S. history...and he spoke directly about white supremacy in a way few presidents have...

That is a start. Biden should keep his foot on that pedal and launch an official inquiry about uncomfortable historical truths, and do it in a way that ensures that it will extend over years, if not decades. Because it is time for the United States to convene its own version of a truth and reconciliation commission and fully examine the horrors of slavery and their continued aftermath...

...[T]he collective American narrative needs a strong dose of truth. We need clear eyes and a firm spine, and then we need to chart a new path forward. That kind of step would also launch re-examinations of the treatment of America’s Indigenous peoples, the eugenics movement and the internment camps of the 1940s for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent.  

As presented in that passage, this conversation would be remarkably extensive. Also, it would be "an official inquiry." It would be launched by President Biden, a good decent person (like Norris herself) who currently lives in the White House.

Norris says the inquiry should examine uncomfortable historical truths. We'll assume she thinks that some such inquiry should examine the full sweep of the nation's history, not just the horrible parts.

That said, she plainly stresses the atrocities and the horrors as her essay continues. Biden should get to them all.

Does it make sense to picture our nation conducting some such "conversation?" Also, is it possible that Norris is picturing something that's more like a lecture, less like a real dialogue?

Before the week is done, we'll return to the "irksome" question Norris says she fielded from a woman in 2015—the irksome question with which she opens and closes her essay. 

Here in Our Town, we sometimes forget that The Others will never be as fully enlightened as we are. If we want to have a "conversation," we're going to have to accept the fact that The Others will always be less insightful and less moral than we are.

If we seek a conversation, we'll definitely have to expose ourselves to irksome comments, questions and points of view. If we want a real conversation, we may have to restrain our natural, possibly understandable tendency to cast aspersions and form prejudgments concerning all Other points of view.

It sometimes seems that Norris can only see or imagine error when it occurs Over There. As she continues, she describes the obstacles standing between what she later calls "our great nation" and the strong dose of truth we need:

NORRIS: ...[T]he collective American narrative needs a strong dose of truth. We need clear eyes and a firm spine, and then we need to chart a new path forward. That kind of step would also launch re-examinations of the treatment of America’s Indigenous peoples, the eugenics movement and the internment camps of the 1940s for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent.

And yet we are in a moment when hard truths are not just inconvenient, they are challenged and dismissed with great fanfare. A growing cottage industry is taking root among those who use their animus to stoke the fires of white grievance and feed the false claim that the hidden motive of all truth-seeking is to elevate people of color by making White people feel bad about themselves.

It is not surprising that some White people would be reluctant to dive into this history. We are still producing textbooks where the enslaved are called “workers of Africa.” And while racial fatigue is a real thing leading to real tensions and discomfort, it sometimes seems that people claim to be exhausted by a conversation that has never really taken place. I wonder whether people are just repelled by the idea of this conversation or they are really rattled by what they might hear.

These White People Today! Only some of them seem to be making mistakes. Everyone else has it right!

Without question, some "white people" may stand in the way of the perfect unveiling of truth. Is it possible that the same is true of some people from other "racial" groups? Even from some journalists and academics—from thought leaders here in Our Town?

If some white people avoid our true history, are members of other groups inclined to overstate at times? For example:

In the passage posted above,  is that second highlighted statement true? Are "we" still producing textbooks "where the enslaved are called 'workers of Africa?' " 

That's an enervating claim. Can it possibly be true?

For ourselves, we have no idea. As a general matter, we would assume that any foolishness one can imagine does exist, in some form and at some place, within our very large nation.

At the same time, we note that Norris provides no link in support of this claim. Our subsequent attempt at a Google search proved fruitless. How many "textbooks" (plural!) are we talking about?

In our experience, there's a lot of Imperfect cogitation on display in our large, sprawling nation. But Norris may be somewhat inclined to spot the foolishness coming from Others, while failing to imagine the possibility that some of the instincts found in Our Town may be unwise or unhelpful too.

Let's set those alleged textbooks aside. Is it possible that the other highlighted claim in that passage may be overstated or misleading in some way as well? 

If you want to use such heated language, it may be true that some elements in our society are behaving in the way Norris describes—are creating a cottage industry "to stoke the fires of white grievance and feed the false claim that the hidden motive of all truth-seeking is to elevate people of color by making White people feel bad about themselves."

It may be true that some players are doing something like that! But is everyone who disagrees with Norris' instincts and judgments seeking to "feed the false claim that the hidden motive of all truth-seeking is to elevate people of color by making White people feel bad about themselves?" 

Come to think of it, has anyone made that sweeping "false claim?" Has anyone ever really claimed that "the hidden motive of all truth-seeking is to make White people feel bad?" 

Who is making that claim? And is it possible that some of the Others who may seem irksome are actually noting unhelpful or unwise instincts emerging from within Our Town?

Implausible though it may seem, is it possible that We can be wrong on occasion—that we can display imperfect judgment? Is it possible that Norris herself can, at times, be a bit too sure of her current point of view?

If she sometimes is, should that make her irksome? Also, this: 

Is it possible that Norris is picturing a lecture more than a conversation? This basic question came to our mind at various points as we read the well-intentioned essay by the good, decent person in question.

We'll note two additional points:

As Norris was making her proposal, something resembling this national conversation was taking place all over the edition of the Washington Post in which her essay appeared. 

News reports and opinion columns were examining issues of race extending all the way from the names of various birds (front-page report) to the names of various high schools and colleges to a recent seminar on race, for players, conducted by the Alexandria (Va.) Little League. This leads us to offer a gentle observation:

Like others in the mainstream press, Norris could be said to be jumping in front of a parade which is already underway. We sometimes wonder where these highly successful mainstream journalists were in the decades before this.

Something resembling a conversation is already underway! Sometimes, this seems to generate insightful work. Sometimes, it seems to generate trivia, even work which may be larded with exaggeration and  error.

That said, should the conversation come from the top down? Should Biden make it official?

At a time when this nation can't even agree on whether Biden won last year's election, it isn't obvious that an official inquiry would gain traction with all comers. And in a nation conceived and dedicated as our nation officially is,  no national conversation can proceed without an attempt to bring in the broad range of voices.

That means we'll have to tolerate irksome Others. They'll never be as brilliant as we are, but we can't get rid of them yet. If we're holding a conversation, they'll have to be part of the deal.

For today, we note one final point. Despite Norris' somewhat snarky complaint about what we don't expect of white leaders, one white leader already did convene a top-down conversation on race.

That white leader was Bill Clinton. Surely, no one has forgotten this:

One America in the 21st Century: The President's Initiative on Race, or the One America Initiative, was established by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1997 with Executive Order 13050. The main thrust of the effort was convening and encouraging community dialogue throughout the country. The Advisory Board's principal legacy was the collection and publication of "best practices" for racial reconciliation and dialogue guidelines designed to help communities discuss how to address racial and ethnic divisions in mutually productive ways.

The initiative was launched in June 1997. The  seven-member advisory board was chaired by John Hope Franklin. 

Seventeen months later, the board presented its voluminous findings. No one paid a bit of attention. The year of the great sex chase was on. Their findings blew in the wind. 

None of what happened back then is Norris' fault. We were struck by the hint of snark as she discussed the things we expected from Obama but not from white leaders. As a general matter, we think a "national conversation" on a difficult subject proceeds best in the absence of snark.

Our nation could benefit from conversations on various topics. In theory, our brutal history concerning race would surely be one such topic.

That said, we've been struck, again and again, by the way Our Town has generated snark and error and shaky judgments ever since we decided to focus on issues of gender and race. We've made a lot of mistakes! But even as we generate these unhelpful behaviors, we may tend to retreat to the same space of noting the irksome comments of Others, full and complete total stop.

Conversations can't work that way. That sounds more like a lecture, a dose of truth from the top.

"Devil or angel?" Bobby Vee once asked. Today, it's conversation or lecture! Experts say we may not be perfectly wired for the more productive approach.

Tomorrow: Journalistically, the best part of Norris's essay

Friday: No one can say that such feelings are wrong


  1. I can't see the people who are against it arguing in good faith, even though Bob and the corporate media will give them the benefit of the doubt.
    For that reason, no, I don't see this happening.

    1. Edit:
      "For that reason...", should read "For those reasons..."

    2. That's our Somerby. Always willing to carry water for the worst people in the country.

    3. Hit me, hate me, hurt me, make me listen to 30 million of your words.

    4. Or be willing to learn.
      Not you, personally. Someone who is being honest, though, could.

    5. Now you tell me. Read the first couple of messages posted.

    6. "Edit:
      "For that reason...", should read "For those reasons...""

      ??????? What is this telling you, Cecelia?

    7. First two messages (sans the correction post) tell me that minds are fairly wide shut and that the goal of such a discussion isn't to enlighten in the sense of getting a consensus on how to work together on matters of race, but rather to suggest that some people are no better than a KKK Grand Wizard if they don't embrace an entire package of ideological based goals and remedies.

      This is the nature of politics. This is how power is chiefly garnered now. That's why it has to be...has always had to the interests of both sides to give and to get. No time more so than now.

      Based upon comments daily here, I don't think the current mentality facilitates this aim. I don't see any possibility based upon the environment at Twitter. That opinion comes from reckoning the mindset of BOTH sides.

      Militant people won't tolerate people they genuinely (and stupidly) feel are evil.

      Pres. Biden is MY president. I didn't vote on him, but MY fellow countrymen did. I'm not thrilled with him, but I pray for him every day. I will back him whenever I can. That's what I was taught to do.

      However, it's going to take a couple of years for the country to settle down and to remember what their parents tried to instill in them.

      Let's hope that's possible. It ain't yet.

    8. I voted for Biden, but I'd still call him a racist if he was one.

    9. Cecelia seems to be saying that the right doesn't want to talk about race because they will be blamed for their racism. Shouldn't their approach be to stop being so fucking racist? She has confirmed that sparing white feelings is the motive for ignoring past wrongs done to black people.

    10. Anonymouse 5:18pm, what about Hunter Biden?

      Anonymouse 5:25pm, feelings matter to the extent that you can effect change. You’re exhibitA that it’s not possible right now.

    11. "You’re exhibitA that it’s not possible right now.

      Q. How many Right-wing accusations are actually confessions?

      A All of them, Katie.

    12. How many mush-brained Anonymices mindlessly repeat illogical internet memes?

      Well, you, for one.

    13. Cecelia,
      Unlike you, I haven't hung around in a Kindergarten playground since I was 5-years old. Can you remind me again, which one of us is rubber, and which one of us is glue?

    14. That’s not what I’ve heard.

    15. Better chance of it being true if a 5-year old said it, then if a Right-winger did.
      Kids can be brutally honest. Right-wingers can be brutal, but never honest.

  2. She hopes that national conversations and presidential commissions on slavery will make non-Blacks more sympathetic to Blacks. Then we will finally decide to end Black economic inequality, we will fund all schools equally, and we will forbid cops and non-Black citizens from ever harming a Black person. It's worth a try.

    1. You can't shame people into it, so you have to try some other method.

    2. You could shame me when blacks did not have equal rights. You can't shame me today, because blacks not only have equal rights, they have preferences in some situations.

    3. David,
      Who, TF, do you think you're kidding? You couldn't possibly be shamed into treating black people like first class citizens.

    4. David's wife's, sister's driving instructor's cousin told me David is a 100% no doubt about it racist.

  3. Normal humyn beings don't differentiate.

    Liberal-hitlerians have 'conversations' and 'dialogues' on 'race'.

    Who cares; let 'em, dear Bob. And if it's a mandatory lecture during working hours -- thank god for smartphones with unlimited internet access.

    1. Still pissed the North won the Civil War, I see.

  4. I am constantly struck by the amount of bile and ignorance I see in these comments. I am also struck by the incredible amount of ignorance of American history and politics shown by our journalists who work in the major media outlets and who issue commentary on them. They are matched and surpassed by their colleagues/rivals on the fringes. There has been a major re-evaluation of the tropes of US history that has been going on in university History Departments since the 1970s. Where were these "journalists"? They certainly weren't studying history and/or politics!

  5. At one time, black children were shown role models
    of high achievement, like George Washington Carver. Thus, they were encouraged to be high achievers.

    Now, black children are shown victims, like the victims of the Tulsa massacre long ago. Thus, these children are encouraged to be victims.

    1. Micah X. Johnson is the greatest American hero of the past 20 years, even though he was a victim of the modern KKK.

    2. David, do you know who Ronald McNair was? Black children do.

    3. Obviously, Micah X. Johnson is a role model for every American. Not just black children.
      Every town square in the country should have a statue of him.

    4. It’s always interesting to hear from the Anonymouse contingency serving out their sentences in solitary confinement.

    5. Cecelia,
      I, too, support prison reform. You'd have to be a real dirtbag excuse for a human being (Hello, GOP) if you didn't.

  6. To clarify, those who disagree with the fact that Biden won the election are Trumptards like Somerby.

  7. "We'll assume she thinks that some such inquiry should examine the full sweep of the nation's history, not just the horrible parts.

    That said, she plainly stresses the atrocities and the horrors as her essay continues. Biden should get to them all."

    The parts that white people consider good are already being taught. It is the horrible parts that are being whitewashed. She is arguing for a more complete appraisal, not just the focus on the parts white people like, which results in a distortion of our past.

  8. "Without question, some "white people" may stand in the way of the perfect unveiling of truth."

    Somerby is one of those people. Remember his reaction here to the 1619 Project? That project may not have been "perfect" (and where did that standard come from?) but it filled in some important knowledge gaps. Somerby was against it.

    1. Somerby is yet another white snowflake, who's fee fees ache if you tell them the truth.

    2. What exactly did he say about it that you disagree with?

    3. He sided with the attacks on it coming from the right wing. He repeated his arguments that race isn't real and therefore there is racism and no reason to discuss such past history. He disagreed that there is systemic racism arising from slavery. He made specific attacks on CRT, the current bugaboo of the right wing. All of his remarks lately amount to telling black people to sit down and shut up and stop being so uppity about the past.

    4. Let’s all just sit back and bask in the “good faith” of Anonymices.

    5. He's racist. (Somerby)

  9. "Are "we" still producing textbooks "where the enslaved are called 'workers of Africa?' "

    It so tragic that Somerby doesn't appear to know how to use a search engine. How could his education have omitted that skill?

    The first item to appear is:

    This is not surprising given Norris's history with NPR. This particular example is from Houston, TX, in a high school textbook. This is from McGraw-Hill and affects 100,000 books.

    Then there is this:

    which also references a NY Times review of American textbooks:

    Somerby is wrong to imply that this isn't happening in our country.

  10. Somerby doesn't think Trump won the election, or can't you read?

  11. "At a time when this nation can't even agree on whether Biden won last year's election, it isn't obvious that an official inquiry would gain traction with all comers."

    If it gains traction with those who name little league teams, that would be an improvement.

    Notice how Somerby introduces ridiculous standards into his discussion, insisting that perfect history must be told, or that traction must be gained among all comers. Incremental change is better than no change. A few comers helps, a closer approximation of perfection is better than not trying. This is how white people drag their feet over the obvious need for practice: can't achieve perfection so why even try!

  12. Exactly! This nation, as a country, based on statements by its legitimate elected officials, certified an election in which Biden won. That means that there is national agreement about who is President, regardless of what malcontents and failed candidates think. There has never been a requirement that every individual agree about who was elected. Our Nation knows who its president is (hint: it is not Trump). Pretending there is any confusion because some right wing extremists are trying to overthrow the government puts Somerby on the wrong side. There is no reason why he should bring up that treason as an argument against a more accurate teaching of history.

  13. "We were struck by the hint of snark as she discussed the things we expected from Obama but not from white leaders. "

    The expectations placed on Obama because he was black were the reason why he could not make racial progress (beyond his personal example). A President must be president of all the people, not just those with the same skin color as himself. Obama's hands were tied. Why were there expectations? Because (1) Obama could be expected to understand and empathize with minority issues, (2) Obama explicitly mentioned the need for a racial conversation when discussing the complaints against liberation theology, in the speech where he threw his white grandma under the bus. Had he tried to achieve greater racial change, he would have been perceived as more partisan than he was. Given Obama's character flaw of trying achieve bipartisan buy-in to whatever he did, his hands were tied on race as well as on other issues.

    Bill Clinton did try to achieve racial progress. It is why so many African Americans supported him, and later Hillary (until Obama's campaign made it a race-crime to continue to support her). Obama's call to racial arms undercut Hillary's campaign in ways that Bernie and any other candidate could not do. Had African Americans not stayed home in 2016, Trump would not have been president.

    This is some history people seem to have forgotten, including Somerby.

  14. In terms of corporate tax cuts, it doesn't matter who won the election now that Biden has caved on his pledge and will support the insanely unfair Trump tax cuts. I guess Rachel forgot to mention that on her "show".

  15. It was Joe Manchin who caved to Republicans. Not Joe Biden.

  16. 3:57 seems to not know or ignore Biden's pushing for a global tax regime, which would be hugely more consequential, especially for the insanely profitable tech companies than Trump's tax cuts.

  17. A real media would ask Manchin how Trump's HUGE corporate tax cuts were paid for.

  18. Who was talking about taxes?

  19. "pushing for" - how cute. I'm sure he'll push that global tax regime right on through. Let's not even worry or think about it and focus on Republican racists. That's way more important.

  20. No 9:34, let's try and use fifth columnist tactics to divide Dems by claiming Biden isn't repealing tax cuts which he can't do without Manchin/Sinema anyway) and ignoring any effort to institute a global taxes.

    Surely it's far more important to divide Dems through lies and snarky comments while pretending to be concerned about tax rates. Shades of Somerby the divider !

  21. Divide dems? Try again MSNBC breath. This is the score: Let's use race and other diversionary, dividing topics to divide 99.9% of the country against each other as we couple hundred oligarchs completely take over all of the countries systems including its political system. That's why Biden loves Trump's tax cuts and "pushes for" things that sound good without ever getting results. Smarten up.

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  27. Anon 10:55, 9:34 is being sarcastic. He doesn't want focus on racist republicans, he wants to lie and rant and ignore tax changes Biden is making