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.