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It's 2009. Near the corner of Future and Fucked, a group of men in battered work clothes is standing. Everybody in this group has a pocket communicator/computer more powerful than anything imagined in the original Star Trek: a device that they can use to talk to anybody else anywhere on the planet, listen to a whole day's worth of music or pick out new music recommended for them by computers, or read any document in a computer network that contains close to the sum of all recorded human knowledge. Every man on this corner holds a piece of The Future in his pocket. And what are they doing here? They're waiting to see if any white contractors will come by to hire them for a day's work, cheap immigrant labor building the Brave New World one luxury condominium at a time.

A couple of blocks away, a multiracial group of people is marching towards Future Street chanting for immigration reform, while a decidedly melanin-challenged group is waiting for them at the corner of the town green, holding signs and chanting their own slogans: “No amnesty here”. “Go home – we didn't invite you”. “We support our cops!” and “it's not about race”.

Of course it's not about race. We're postracial, you know? We have a black President who is working harder than any white President we've had in the last thirty years to rebuild this country's image with the rest of the world. And none of us, I swear to God, even notice that he's black. We just feel compelled to add, whenever he does anything right, that he's also part white. And comment on how very, very lucky he is. And the fact that he has swagger. Not that he's, you know, black or anything. We don't see color here. It's just a fact that the POTUS has swagger, and we're delighted. We're not Othering him, stop being so sensitive.

Dude also spends a lot of time trying to help everybody else in this country get better access to health care, even poor people and black people. The latest response to this from people who don't want everyone to have health care is to print posters of the President in computer-altered whiteface to make him look like a popular comic book villain and call him a socialist. Because socialism, obviously, is going to blow up our hospitals, set violent prisoners free to attack Decent People at their whim, and wear fabulous purple Italian shirts. But it's not about race. Did you not hear how postracial we are here? We even have a Latina Supreme Court justice, who only had to go through seven circles of hell to convince white audiences that she was just as qualified as any of the other Supreme Court justices. It had nothing to do with the fact that she's a Latina.

On the corner of Future and Fucked is a theater that plays mostly science fiction and fantasy movies, these being the most popular cinematic genres in our Brave New Postracial World. The latest SF megahit spent a couple hundred million dollars to show us that even super-advanced robots from another galaxy don't know how to read if they're black. In the Fantasy section, the most popular media phenomenon since Harry Potter is telling us that beautiful, sparkling white heroes are sensitive, misunderstood, highly intelligent supernatural beings, and Native Americans are biologically unable to control their emotions, to the point where they will force themselves on our beautiful white heroines. They just can't help themselves, you see. Because they're animals. This is not about race. God, it's just a fantasy. Would you lighten up?

We have a huge new chain bookstore here, instead of the grotty-looking old independent bookseller that went out of business a few years ago. In the Young Adult section of the bookstore, alongside the books about the sparkling white vampires, we're selling a book called “Liar”, about a young black girl who is a compulsive liar. On the cover is a – young white girl? Yes. The book is called Liar, and the cover is one. You see, books with black people on the covers don't sell. This wasn't a racist marketing strategy. It's just about the money. And if a few black kids miss out on one of the very few YA books on the market that even have black protagonists, it's just too bad. I mean, most of those kids don't even read anyway.

No, don't look at me like that. It's true. Why else would black kids score 26 points lower than white kids on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, even after all these years of No Child Left Behind? Why would that education gap actually be widening in some states, like Connecticut? It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that, according to the Connecticut Board of Education, 18% of all black students in CT were suspended or expelled from school in 2007, compared with 16% of Latino students and, would you believe, a whopping 4% of all white students? No, I seriously doubt that discriminatory public school discipline policies have anything to do with those test scores. It's just that, you know, black kids don't read. Dude, this was even in Transformers. It isn't racist.

On the town green near where I work, a white woman is holding up a sign that says: “We support our police department.” Her friend's sign tells me this isn't about race. I assume they are protesting the immigration march and defending the rights of the red-blooded, All-American police officers who have allegedly been harassing non-white residents of this town for years now. Since those very same police officers are currently watching over the scene, I decline the opportunity to confront the protesters as I walk down Fucked Avenue to meet my wife. But I still wave and clap for the marchers that I pass on their way to the green. I seriously doubt they can make this town change, but I wish them all the best.

It's 2009. For some of us, including the majority of people on this site, it's a sparkly bright future. For some of us, it's just as fucked as it always was, and worse in some ways because we're all so very very postracial now. Here are a few of the things I've heard from white people in “postracial” America: What institutional discrimination? Haven't you heard about the No Child Left Behind act? What segregation are you talking about? There aren't any whites-only toilets here. Some of my best friends are African-American. I don't even see color. When did I ever do anything against a black person? I have no white privilege, I'm poor as dirt. I should have been born African-American. I can't believe these people are still playing the race card. You know, statistically, most violent crime is actually black on white? What discrimination against Native Americans? Those guys are richer than Jesus now, with all the casinos they run. And my great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess, and I haven't even asked them for my share of the casino money, that's how postracial I am. What glass ceiling? Don't you know we have a black President?

America, we need to talk.

Earlier this week, I was standing by one of the headwaters of the Salmon River, watching the salmon spawn and getting in a screaming match with my good friend and expedition partner about proper safety precautions around black bears. And the reason that this is relevant to the title and subject of this node is that the metaphor can be carried further. When the words "...we need to talk" are usually uttered in a relationship, there is usually something else going on. As a master of the storm out, the silent treatment, the icy glare I know that by the time someone says "we need to talk", something has been going on for a while. And of course, I haven't even mentioned the bringing up of anecdotes of past failures or the dreaded "this is just the type of thing your mother would do". The types of passive aggressive and manipulative tools that can be used in interpersonal relationships are seemingly endless, and of course we can follow it with the metaphor presented above. Because America isn't talking about what is bothering it, it is bringing up that time five years ago when someone got drunk and knocked over our grandmother's favorite vase.

So, what is this really about? I ask myself this question, and I have some answers. For some of these answers, we have to shift to a different part of Idaho, and a different piece of writing: Enron and the Cult of Personality. In 1877, the Nez Perce Indians, after having their reservation shrunk to make way for gold prospectors, fled across Idaho and into Montana before finally being surrounded close to the Canadian border. As is usually the case, it ended with many of the Nez Perce dead or in Oklahoma. And why this happened has a lot to do with what IceOwl writes about in Enron and the Cult of Personality. Things like this happened because America, on the whole, believed in progress. Whatever words were actually spoken, whatever promises were made, it was a sure bet that it was unimportant because everything else was subsumed to the idea of "progress". A lot of people (and a lot of nature) got hurt because of this, but many of the people who did all of these things for progress believed that they were making the world an objectively better place. It wasn't simple greed that chased the inhabitants off the land so that it would be open for exploitation, it was a belief that this was what God wanted them to do with the world. Or at least that is one way to look at it: when you discovered what one party wanted, "progress", you could understand the conversation a lot better because you knew what the real goal underlying the transitory statements and promises was.

I am not quite sure what the real goals and beliefs in the current American debate are. I do think that the amount of anger and hatred are so out of proportion to the policy issues being discussed (which are rather wonkish), that some other values are being tickled and irritated. Even people not familiar with Godwin's Law are wondering why a debate about healthcare policy has turned Barack Obama into a socialist, or Adolf Hitler. His plans might be impracticable, they might be stretching a budget that is already badly strained, and they might be changing a system in a way that might not benefit everyone, and might break with traditions. But the reason that people live in societies is to share resources, and life being what it is, that sharing isn't always equal. Aspects of medical care have been socialized for decades in the United States, and when George W Bush pushed through an increase in Medicaid benefits during his term, while there was some grumbling, it wasn't perceived as a sign of the apocalypse. And ways in which the government redistributes wealth are manifold, although often invisible. One of the most obvious examples is rural interstate roads, which allow people in small communities transportation costs that are heavily subsidized by people in larger communities. Another example is the US Post Office, (which is an autonomous government corporation), which maintains branch offices in tiny communities, offering a chance to communicate and employment in areas that would not have them. Not that these are perfect examples, but they do bear thinking about.

But again, none of this is what the argument is REALLY about. When I see someone by the side of the road in the John Day Valley with a sign proclaiming a "UN Free Zone", I am a little serious as to how much the UN interferes with his day-to-day life. Perhaps he was just that saddened by the death of Asuka Langley Sohryu? And when frantic parents think that Obama's generic, feel-good "Stay in School" speech is an attempt at socialist indoctrination...something else is going on. This is not what is really bothering people. Something is being unsaid in the national conversation that is actually important to people, while many subjects that are red herrings are thrashed over repeatedly.

I myself have one major guess about what the real discussion is about. My own belief is that "progress", as the national myth, has been displaced by "autonomy", the belief that all people are in their natural state when they are independent. Strangely enough, a large part of this belief in autonomy as the foremost good comes from the counter-culture, something that many of the believers in the ideology of autonomy would perhaps not like to admit. And many of the believers in the ideology of autonomy like to mix it with the ideology of progress, although they don't actually always explain how or why this is guaranteed to work out. It is impossible to be autonomous in the world now, just like it has always been impossible. And the more that people think about the ways they are dependent on forces outside of their control, the more it makes them angry at some of the more obvious signs of encroachment. The economic system never guaranteed anyone a job or a living, but the economic system is a rather diffuse target, so more obvious targets must be chosen.

But the entire last paragraph was just one possible explanation: my main point is that we need to talk, and we can't right now because the real subjects of discussion are not even being brought up. I hope they are soon, because hearing the same arguments rehashed for the Nth time is boring the f*cking sh*t out of me.

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