Barack Obama has it wrong. Americans have never stopped talking about race. We have been talking about race, in our contemporary sense, since the middle of the eighteenth century when the movement to abolish Negro slavery began. We have never paused in this conversation. But the conversation has changed profoundly in the past thirty years. Before the 1970s, the conversation was about relations between two races--black and white. Since then, the conversation has been about relations between black, brown, red, and white races and the nuanced definition of ethnic "races". Before the 1970s, the subject was the political and civil rights of blacks. Since then, the subject has been the cultures of the races and their place and future in American culture.
What Obama wants, what black leaders want, what white politicians who have built their political positions on black politics want, is to return the conversation back to black-white relations about political-civil rights. But we cannot turn back the racial clock. Blacks are now a racial minority. The brown races, including Hispanic/Indian, are the dominant nonwhite race. The mass of Americans have moved on. We cannot re-inflate the importance of the black-white conversation. If the black community wants to re-join our conversation about races, they must themselves move-on and join our social-cultural conversations. But the evidence from their political leaders, from Obama himself, is that they do not wish to do that, because it would require public self-examination they are not sufficiently confident to undertake.
Update. April 4, 2008. Juan Williams, a political commentator, discusses the kind of cultural and social issues about race that Obama and other national black political leaders do not wish to discuss. (Juan Williams, "Obama and King", Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2008.) Their refusal illustrates that it is the politically organized Democratic black community, which would include politicized church congregations, such as Rev. Wright's Trinity Church, that opposes moving the race conversation to meaningful subjects, opened to conversation by the nation's civil rights progress, because it would imperil their leadership of that community. Obama is part of this refusal.