Post-racial America

Mixed in with all the recent news about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates are a lot of references to “post-racial America.” Many of those references imply that Barack Obama’s presidency is already a failure because racial and racist events still take place in the United States.

Um. Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but President Obama has only been in office for six months. Six months! You don’t “undo” 400 years of racial and racist culture in six months.

“Post-racializing” is a long and slow process marked by bumps, leaps, and zig-zags. It started with the Emancipation Proclamation. Its wheels were greased with the “mainstreaming” of “colored music” in the 1950s by the likes of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. It took a big leap forward during the civil rights movement. It hit some serious bumps with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the  Rodney King debacle. (Rodney King’s simple comment “why can’t we all just get along?” should be up there with Dr. King’s “I have a dream” in the canon of anti-racist quotables.)

The election of Barak Obama to the office of President is a huge and elegant capriole across an enormous chasm. But it won’t end the racial and racist culture in the United States. Furthermore, Barack Obama is not personally responsible for — nor capable of — ending racialism and racism all by himself.

It’s coming, but it’ll be a long time coming. It’s a matter of generations, not months or years before the U.S. is truly “post-racial.” That doesn’t mean you should give up your Barack Obama-inspired hope (although it would do to let go of the Hope™.) Embrace your hope, and mix it up with positive action, good intentions, and realistic expectations. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all going to go away, overnight, because of some magical election in 2008.

3 thoughts on “Post-racial America

  1. Some of us still haven’t gotten over absorption of Newfoundland, but you know – give it a few hundred years to settle and Prime Minister Desmond McNguyen will have it all figured out.

  2. I think I see what you’re getting at, AJ, but I would reply that just because you may feel post-racial, and all your friends seem post-racial, that doesn’t mean the society as a whole is post-racial. It’s not like the “racialists” are just some obscure fringe.

    And there’s a double-edged sword at work here. Every positive step also has the negative effect of shining the spotlight really brightly on the fact that the issue still exists, which can in some cases serve to reinforce it. Similarly, every negative step shakes us out of our complacency and shows us how much still remains to be done.

    An aside, but relevant: today I’m filling out a “vendor information” form for a company in the US that wants me as a vendor. Along with the usual contact info, there are all these checkboxes where I’m supposed to indicate if I’m a member of a visible minority, or affiliated with various ethnic empowerment groups, or hispanic this and black that. While this likely is connected with affirmative action programs, the immediate result is that of being highly racial (not the same as racist). How can anyone claim that the U.S. is even close to being “post racial” when race plays a card in almost every game in town? It’s always on the table.

    I’m not dissing affirmative action programs, I’m just pointing out that their high degree of prevalence shows that the U.S. is still very “racial.”

  3. I don’t know if applying as a vendor is the same as filling out a job application, but if I remember correctly, they are not allowed by law to ask your race. I understand the affirmative action aspect, but people could easily use that as a front to avoid certain people.

    Sometimes we fail to realise that the people around us are not always a cross section of the populace. Like I think 90% of the people I know have left leanings, but that’s as much because most of them are people I have chosen to associate with. I still get a bit taken aback when I see or hear racist words or actions. It’s just that it’s not something that is present in my life so I figure their existance is diminishing.

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