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Start paying attention, and talking back

By Yolande Robbins

There’s still the persistence of two racial stereotypes, one that white people are logical, and two, that black people are not.

And that blacks are dispersed and emotive; not given to thought or to planning.

We have allowed that to continue to the point where we ourselves now tolerate these stereotypes and promote them as culture.

There are few pictures anywhere of black people talking.

Today, still, and throughout the country, talk media is the most profitable component of radio broadcasting, and it is politically one-sided.

But what is troubling to observers of the radio divide is the almost total absence of black people from the community of talk. It’s as though no one believes that conversation is expressive of our culture. And a spoken sentence with linear logic and a valid point at the end seems to surprise everybody.

That is why the practice of language, both spoken and written, is now so essential to black people.

Invisible men (reference here to Ralph Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN) sing, but don’t speak.

The first requirement of talk is knowing things to say, and that’s our first failing.  When talk becomes anything other than self-reference; when it begins to refer to things outside one’s own self and time; when it seeks precedent and argues principle, many of us don’t know what to say.

But advocacy politics, now overwhelmingly conservative, takes up that slack for its constituents on the radio. It provides the philosophic and historic framework for the experiences of those who tune in and call.

People get instant back-up for their problems. They become immediately active and empowered citizens.

But an army does not have to be particularly skillful to be successful – as long as it is well-mobilized and moves in one direction.

So it is with talk radio.

But we seldom take part.

But our warning ought to be that publicly voiced anti-Semitism in the years after the Weimar Republic eventually resulted in the Kristallnacht and all the horrors that followed it.

But people are not Nazis because they are conservative.

They are simply in serious and sustained talk with each other.

We don’t do that. We don’t gather to talk. We sing and celebrate and worship and entertain. But we hardly ever talk.

The homes of our best-educated people are wired for music and sound, but not filled with talk.

Much is said on talk media today that greatly affects black people. But we are indifferent to it.

The struggle of black Americans for their civil rights, which struck this country at its core just 60 some years ago, is now marginalized on talk media by a new patriotism that sees straight lines of tyranny from George III to global warming.

Much is being said on radio today that greatly affects people of color.

But however much the r(ace)-word is not spoken in that context, it is there, in code, and understood every day.

We had better start paying attention.

And talking back.