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Maybe We Can Start Making New Mistakes, by Rob Chalmers, Pioneer Press Op-Ed

Maybe We Can Start Making New Mistakes

By Rob Chalmers
Pioneer Press Op-Ed, May 21, 2008

You wouldn't think we'd still be having this conversation in the 21st century. But then, we're not flying around in the jet packs we were promised, either.

In a recent edition of the New York Times, Adam Nagourney refers to "the question that has hung over Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign ... Why has he been unable to win over enough working-class and white voters to wrap up the Democratic nomination? Is the Democratic Party hesitating about race as it moves to the brink of nominating an African-American to be president?"

I believe Mr. Nagourney jumped the gun a bit, as have the rest of the media. Why, for example, is the question not directed at Sen. Hillary Clinton, for not "wrapping up" the nomination, begging the question from the first-woman-president side? And there's the small matter of the national convention. Are we that eager to get this election over with?

In any case, let's consider the progress we've made on diversity in the past two years alone: in 2006 and 2007, an amazing amount of intolerance resurfaced. Sports, movie and TV celebrities, and even the pope, uttered statements that could not have been more politically incorrect. But a combination of righteous indignation and new technologies (which captured most of these outbursts real-time and broadcast them all over the world, via the Internet) balanced things out with stark immediacy.

Of course, the fundamental paradox of diversity is that we all want to be treated the same while having our individuality acknowledged.

As a colleague of mine puts it, "I accept people being African-American, gay, Spanish-speaking, female, Muslim, disabled or whatever. But do I have to 'celebrate' it again today? Can't I just go fishing?"

Truth is, we all want to "just go fishing." We all want room to breathe.

Fortunately, the bad news for those who fish in offensive, inappropriate waters is that there are enough phone-cams around to electronically report them to the community for instant admonishment.

And we should remember Wilhelm Steinitz (the world's first chess champion, who was Jewish-Austrian-American), who used to say before each tournament, "The mistakes all are waiting to be made."

Sen. Clinton has made a couple, so far. Sen. Obama, too; his remark about "bitter blue-collar workers clinging to guns and religion" and racially inflammatory statements by his former pastor have "de-diversified" Obama slightly.

Perhaps we've finally come to the point where we can begin making some new mistakes, the good old human-error kind, instead of the same old ones. Perhaps the good news is that in most cases slights of race, sexuality, religion and other diverse interests really are mistakes rather than intentional.

Time to see what mistakes John McCain will make ... and he will make them. It has something to do with being human.

Which, in the final analysis, is the real freedom we all want to enjoy. An executive secretary of the Mayor's Committee on People with Disabilities under former Mayor George Latimer, Rob Chalmers is founder and president of People Magic (www.peoplemagic. com) a St. Paul-based human relations consultancy he founded in 1981.

St. Paul Pioneer Press
May 21, 2008

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