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Whoopi Goldberg, Donald Trump and race

By LZ Granderson, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Whoopi Goldberg challenged Donald Trump over role of race in "birther" claims vs. Obama
  • LZ Granderson says minorities are accused of always bringing up race
  • He says some whites don't want to listen to discussions about race
  • Granderson: Proof of "post-racial society" is ability to hold genuine conversation about race

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, a senior writer and columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com, has contributed to ESPN's "Sports Center," "Outside the Lines" and "First Take." He is a 2010 nominee and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism and a 2010 and 2008 honoree of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for column writing.

(CNN) -- Last Sunday morning my partner Steve, our 14-year-old son, and two of his teenage friends decided to hit the gym after a big breakfast.

As we were loading up in my Jeep, one of the boys noticed egg on the trunk door. He brought it to the attention of the two other boys and who then asked Steve and me to take a look.

We all agreed we'd been egged.

What we couldn't agree on was why.

Without missing a beat the three black teens all said the same thing.

"Hate crime."

I had thought it, but didn't want to say it out loud.

My partner, who is white and has owned his house in the predominantly white neighborhood for 10 years, had a different take.

"How do we know it happened here?" he asked.

Then the boys pointed to the eggshells that landed inches from the vehicle.

"Maybe it was just some kids out having fun and your car was picked randomly," he suggested.

Perhaps, but we live at the end of a cul-de-sac, which doesn't immediately lend itself to a walk-by egging.

The more the five of us talked about it, the more I became convinced my car was targeted. After all, we had just moved into a county the U.S. Census said is one percent black and my son and I had already wondered if we were that one percent. My partner's car was parked next to mine and we didn't see a single yolk on it. As we drove away we didn't see any other vehicle that had been egged or shells in the driveway. But Steve was relentless in his offering of other explanations and it wasn't until the next day that I actually heard him say that race could have been a factor.

We don't have a problem talking about race... it's the listening that scares us.
--LZ Granderson
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It was also not until the next day that I finally admitted to myself -- and to him -- that it was also possible race had nothing to do with it.

Our egging incident -- which we laugh about now --is a small example of where the nation seems to be on the issue of race. Some minorities are accused of always bringing it up and some whites have a hard time seeing that it has never gone away.

With the election of President Obama, the media asked if we were living in a post-racial society. I believe it will be during Obama's re-election campaign --which he officially announced this week -- that we will see just how post-racial we really are. That's where we'll measure how much dialogue about Obama's effectiveness as president can be had without black Democrats automatically feeling as if all criticism is racially motivated and white Republicans assuming none of it is.

The recent flap between Whoopi Goldberg and Donald Trump -- in which Goldberg suggested race has something to do with the birthers' demand to see President Obama's birth certificate -- may have celebrity tied to it, but that push-pull element exist between everyday black and white people just the same. Not necessarily because of malice but rather a glacial-paced willingness to listen to the other's perspective. We hear it, but we don't always listen. Listening requires us to provide undivided attention to what is being said, as opposed to rationing off focus to work on our rebuttals, which is what we tend to do when we get defensive.

I watched the Trump segment on The View and neither Trump nor the ladies supportive of Obama gave much time -- at least not on air -- to what the other was saying. They immediately went to their respective rebuttals. Now whether the media-savvy Trump is really a birther or if he was just speaking their language to gauge interest in a presidential bid is somewhat irrelevant.

Whatever his motives, the flap made for good TV. But I do believe it is a mistake to just dismiss the whole thing as mindless entertainment. Not if we remember how the country was racially divided regarding the 2009 arrest of noted Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, or the O.J. Simpson verdict, or the Rodney King trial.

As best selling popular psychology authors Malcolm Gladwell ("Blink" ) and Jonah Lehrer ("How We Decide") suggest, our experiences and subconscious biases greatly influence our assumptions and conscious choices. Since we all carry some degree of prejudice about everything, the truth about birthers and other Obama critics -- and his supporters -- must lie somewhere between the two. But we won't get to that truth if we continue to dogmatically stick to our own views and just hear -- as opposed to listen -- to what people who see things differently than us are saying.

Now Trump is a very smart man so for him -- or anyone for that matter -- to say race doesn't play any role in how Obama is viewed is disingenuous. From the distribution of wealth to the access to education to the country's standard of beauty, the ramification of slavery and systematic racism is a continual influence in today's society. But with that being said, the phrase "personal responsibility" is not a synonym for "white power" and the KKK is not forcing black men to abandon their children. We all have our crap, whether we admit to owning it or not. The proof of a post-racial society is not ignoring the crap, electing a black president or seeing "shades of gray". It's having the ability to genuinely hold a conversation about race without the fear of being labeled a racist, sellout or any of the other names used to bully and/or manipulate people.

Now some of us are racists and refuse to move.

But most of us are good people who are afraid to. We don't have a problem talking about race... it's the listening that scares us. That's because listening moves past where we would like to be and reveals the uncomfortable truth of where we really are.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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