Are we living in the golden age of racial debates? Every week seems to bring some new wrinkle in the national conversation about race, class, and ethnicity. And with the emergence of social media, we can now engage in these conversations with ever-greater frequency and intensity.

Earlier this month, the death of Michael Jackson got us talking about issues of racial identity, skin lightening, and the desegregation of MTV. Last week, the Sonia Sotomayor hearings left us wondering about the prospect of a “wise Latina” ascending to the position of Supreme Court justice. And now, this week, news of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s being pulled over by police — in his own house — has folks buzzing again about the pervasiveness of racial profiling in America and whether it’s real or the overblown figment of the African American imagination. Even President Obama addressed the matter during his press conference on Wednesday night, surprisingly calling out the Cambridge police officers who arrested Gates and thus tossing more fuel on the fire.

Add to that this week’s broadcast premiere of CNN’s Black in America 2, and you’ve got a lively (and potentially volatile) mix of racial topics that can either bring us together, as we wrestle with tough issues across racial lines, or further divide us. So far, at least based on a survey of the polarized range of opinion across the blogosphere and in the various media, it looks like racial understanding is being squashed by anger, distrust, and cynicism.

Here’s hoping that we’ll learn to seize these persistent “racial events” as opportunities to listen, teach, and grow.

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