Friday, May 7, 2010

American Apartheid Denied?

The last time I saw Anna Quindlen interviewed by Charlie Rose, it was 2006, and she was urging every American to read Out of Iraq by George McGovern and William Polk.

I did as Anna urged, and even got my copy of the book signed by McGovern through the good graces of my friends Mary and Jack in Mitchell, S.D.

Tonight, as Quindlen talked with Rose about her new novel, Rose alluded to a remark about race and class in America, from a commencement speach Quindlen gave at Wesleyan in 2009. She asserted there that, for too long, America has had "apartheid denied."

I quickly went online to check the quotation and found Quindlen's entire speech on the Wesleyan website. Here's the quotation in question:

"We need you to make this a fairer place, a more unified nation, a country that wipes out the bright lines of class and race that have created an apartheid, an apartheid too long denied."

"Apartheid" is of course a word fraught with history, inevitably associated with the white seperatist regime in South Africa that imprisoned Nelson Mandela. Former President Jimmy Carter can testify to that, after his provocative use of the word in a book on Israel and the Palestinians prompted a fusilade of criticism a few years ago.

Though Charlie Rose did not ask her why she used the word "apartheid," Anna Quindlen's motive may have been akin to Carter's: to get Americans to pay attention to hard realities that are all too easy to ignore.

How about this one? In the wake of the Great Recession, there six million people, disproportionately members of racial minorities, who must get by on food stamps alone, with no cash income.

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