Don’t Just Complain, Be An Example. (Or: An Open Letter That You Can Write Too.)

(Please forgive my abundant use of Title Case. I just like the way it looks sometimes.)

So I was recently inspired by a post on my friend Erika’s blog, The Margins.

I had just finished laying down a pretty thorough (and snarky) post on why I think the phrase “playing the race card” needs to die a quick, painless death.

And I have to admit, I was pretty proud of myself.

(Proverbs alert!)

But after re-reading it, I came to a conclusion — one that a lot of bloggers, if they were being honest with themselves, would come to.

For serving the purpose of Expressing How I Feel (And Having A Little Fun In the Process), this post is great.

For serving the purpose of Rallying Those Who Think Similarly To the Issue of My Choosing, it’s also pretty darn good.

However, for serving the purpose of Effectively Communicating To Those Who Might Disagree With Me, it is mediocre at best.

Because lets be honest — most people who disagree with me aren’t coming to my blog. They’re probably friends of mine, so they’re going to be more likely to see things from my perspective. And even if they disagree, they can do so in a friendly enough manner so as to engender a good amount of sympathy from me to their side, even if I think they’re wrong. Because they’re most likely friends of mine, they might still be out to lunch on the issue of question … but they’re my friend that’s out to lunch, and that’s a big difference.

Unfortunately, a lot of opinionated bloggers have been socialized by the blogosphere into believing that since the easiest way to attract attention is to be as over-the-top as possible, that’s the best way to communicate.

I respectfully disagree.

Especially when it comes to engaging people with whom I disagree.

The reason why I named this blog “Mixin’ It Up” is because I enjoy the sense of back-and-forth camaraderie, mutual respect, and intellectual stimulation that comes when people can debate with honesty and vigor. And I don’t even mind if it gets a little gutter now and again, as long as folks don’t take things too personal.

A little smack talk now and again can be fun. (Just ask fans of The Jim Rome Show.)

But if you actually want to try to change someone’s mind about an issue (as opposed to just loudly complaining that people aren’t open to your ideas) then a much better idea is to find someone who writes something in the spirit of something you disagree with, and then write them a succinct, yet respectful, response.

Which is what I did with a columnist from, a hotbed of conservative commentary.

After reading The Power of the Race Card by Jon Sanders, I sent this email to Mr. Sanders:

Mr. Sanders,

I read your column, and if I’m understanding your thesis correctly, I understand — and even agree.

The power of the social construct we know as race has been not only polarizing, but unifying, and while Senator Obama has experienced both intense support and intense backlash because of his ethnicity. The fact that such a relative political neophyte such as Obama could take down stalwarts such as Edwards and Clinton is impressive, no doubt.

But I take issue with your loaded language, particularly your use of the phrase “the race card.”

This phrase has nefarious origins (the O.J. Simpson trial) and it has almost always served to advance the interests of those who wish to disdain any attempt by Blacks or other non-Whites to address instances of racial bias and/or prejudice in whatever forum it might exist.

The idea that as a Black man, my racial identity can be reduced to a “card” that I can play at my convenience is both laughably ludicrous and morally repugnant.

If I could truly use this card (or keep it safely tucked inside my wallet) at my own discretion and prevent my ethnicity from becoming a problematic obstacle during inopportune situations like during job interviews or applications for bank loans… believe me — I would do so.

Unfortunately, that is not the way the world works.

But your use of the phrase “the race card” insinuates otherwise, and I strenuously object to your continuing to use it.

Please do yourself and your readers a service by abolishing this term from your arsenal of go-to phrases. It will elevate your writing beyond the stale and predictable, and honor the complexity and nuance of racial relations in America today.

Thanks for your consideration.

Now obviously this man has no ideological reason to respond to this email publicly. But I just might get him to stop. And at the very least, I’ve given him two options:

1. To choose to consider my proposal, or
2. To grudgingly (if only privately) admit that there are people who disagree with him who aren’t liberal moonbats, or whatever the epithet of the day happens to be.

I would hope for the former, but I would settle for the latter.

I realize that even this letter seems to violate part of the spirit of the St. Francis quote that Erika was reflecting on, particularly the idea that my personal conduct could serve as a rebuke to the wicked.

In this case, I’m hoping that my rebuke to the wicked would be a rebuke to the wicked.

Not that I’m saying he’s wicked, but you know what I mean.

And I’m trying to do it with love and respect, which is still a lot more than what you’ll find in many corners of the internet.

I guess its my own tribute to the concept of satyagraha, the firmness of truth that undergirds nonviolent protest.

So if you feel the way I do about “the race card” then feel free to copy my letter, edit out the parts that don’t apply to you, and send it to anyone else who chooses to use the term in print or over the internet. Or if you don’t care so much about this issue, then you can find another that chaps your hide, and take the time to defend your position with grace and humility.

But what’s more important is that you take whatever issue that burns in your heart, and do your best to be the example that the world needs so desperately to see.

And if you track back to this post, so much the better.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and I’m hoping to see you mix it up with me.

UPDATE: Jon wrote me back an equally thoughtful, nuanced response. I will send him a follow-up email, during which I’ll ask if I can post the exchange on my blog.

(Which is always a good policy, by the way, for those bloggers just starting out. Never assume an email is fair game for posting. You wouldn’t automatically broadcast someone’s voicemail on the radio.)

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