"Mr. Turtle, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?" was the opening line of a Tootsie Pop commercial back in the seventies.

Mr. Turtle answered the cartoon boy. "I never made it without biting. Ask Mr. Owl."

The boy approached a scholarly looking cartoon version of an owl, its great unblinking eyes staring at us from our television screens, and repeated his question. "Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop."

Mr. Owl said "let's find out" and proceeded to unwrap the hard shelled bit of flavored candy on a stick with a chewy Tootsie Roll center. The owl's tongue extended slowly from its mouth to take deliberate licks of the candy, pausing after each lick to update the count.

"Ah one."

"Ah two."

"Three."

With the third lick, the beak of the owl suddenly opened, and the bird crunched the entire bit of candy from the end of the stick.

"Three," he declared, his feathers unruffled, his unblinking eyes staring out into TV land.




Maybe this popped into my head tonight because the center of the Tootsie Pop was brown, like Barack Obama. Or maybe this popped into my head because in throwing down the race card gauntlet, it seemed that Senator McCain, like the owl in the commercial, couldn't wait to attack the soft spot in the Obama campaign.

Brown skin is at the center of this latest debate - a light brown, to be exact, but brown nonetheless. And if we don't know anything else in America, we know our signals.

Green means go.

Red means stop.

Yellow means proceed with caution.

And brown?

It means "welfare".

It means "baby daddy".

It means "affirmative action".

It means "drug addict".

It means "known felon".

It means "crack head".

This imagery is so pervasive that Courtland Malloy, a black op-ed writer who often challenges mainstream assumptions about blacks, admitted in his column yesterday that when he saw an African American youth in the woods behind his house one day last week, he immediately jumped to the conclusion that the young man was up to no good.

Dressed in a county uniform, the young black man was employed by his local government as a mosquito control technician.

All of the record breaking fundraising, all of the surgically precise campaign strategies, all of the stirring speeches, all of the voter registrations - all of this can be negated in a few weeks if Americans, both black and white, subconsciously connect the dots the way the Republican strategists want.

Over eighty years ago, James Weldon Johnson said, "I am sure it would be safe to wager that no group of Southern white men could get together for sixty minutes without bringing up the race question. If the Northern white man happened to be in the group, the time could be safely cut to thirty minutes."

He could be describing America today.

Talking about race, especially between the races, is uncomfortable. It calls into question an individual's own sense of morality. It forces us to examine closely all those inequities we have learned to rationalize instead of challenge. And nobody knows what the answer is that will get us from where we are now to where we say we want to be. To truly erase the stereotypes and misconceptions that revolve around race in modern society will be as monumental an achievement as it was for those people who thought the earth was flat to finally accept that it was really round.
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4 comments:

Black Political Analysis said...

This is what Obama was talking about when he decided to forsake public financing of his campaign. He warned that McCain surrogates, via 527 ads, would attack him. And, they will, viciously. But, if Obama can take the high road - we'll see if America is prepared to take the high road too. Americans took the bait with Bush in '00 and '04, we'll see if '08 is different.

Brown Man said...

So long as they don't bring out the dogs and the firehoses.

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Liked your Tootsie roll analogy. that was good.

That quote about a group of white men not being able to go an hour w/o talking about us was depressing. Reminds me of the race obsessed Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. It's like when they ain't imitating us, they hating us. What will it take for this shit to ever end?

Brown Man said...

I don't know what it might take - we had the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century - maybe we'll have the Racial Revolution in the twenty first.

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