Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hard to ID an entire race

One of several reasons to enjoy Newsweek is the back-of-the-book column called The Last Word. In recent times it has been the product of George Will and Anna Quindlen, alternating their commentaries like a pendulum swinging from one side to the other, clever observers of what’s right about the world, and what’s left.

Anna Quindlen, who said she was eight years old when John F. Kennedy gave his inaugural address, has announced that she will no longer write her column. I was thirty-six when JFK delivered that address, and understand the values of retirement. But I’m sorry that the next issues of Newsweek will not include the Quindlen touch.

An admirer might, even so, pause over her comment that “America’s opinionators are too white and too gray. They do not reflect our diversity of ethnicity and race, gender and generation.” Journalists are not alone in sometimes seeing “white” as an all-purpose definition, but it is not. “White” racists viciously opposed the civil rights movement, even as “white” legislators and judges enforced civil rights and affirmative action. Some “whites” are Republicans and adore George Will. Some are Democrats and favor Anna Quindlen. There are “white” atheists, “white” Catholics, “white” Protestants. It makes little sense to speak of “white” as though it were a political, social and moral definition.

Old-fashioned shorthand is quick, but it doesn’t always make good journalism.

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