April 2, 2012

Fear of a Black Planet

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin murder, the reelection campaign of President Obama and the general state of racial affairs in this country, many people have been repeating the phrase “we do not live in a post-racial society.”  They’ve said it in print, on the air, in the blogosphere, and in countless discussions on social media.  The one question I’ve been thinking is – who “invented” the term post-racial in the first place?

Well of course in this day and age, I took to Google to do a perfunctory search of the term.  I came across several interesting links.  The first one was a definition from the Urban Dictionary which read:
A term used to describe a society or time period in which discussions around race and racism have been deemed no longer relevant to current social dynamics.  Popularized after the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States of America in 2009.” (www.urbandictonary.com)
Of course there are many books on the subject of race in general and the concept of post-racial, including Racism without Racists by Edward Bonilla-Silva.  In the book’s latest edition, Bonilla-Silva devotes the entire last chapter to the election of President Obama and what it means for race relations in this country. 

Another example is a book entitled The Myth of Post-Racial America: Searching for Equality in the Age of Materialism by Roy Kaplan.  What is problematic from the title of this book is that there is a presupposition that the discussion about post-racial America has already taken place, and we all agree that it is a myth that we do indeed live in a post-racial world.  I  have never seen this discussion take place on the nightly cable talking head shows, or the Sunday morning shows.  When did we actually have this discussion and reach the conclusion that it is unanimously preposterous to think that we live in a post-racial world?

Presently, the reelection campaign of Barack Obama has given us an opportunity to reflect on the past three and a half years and examine whether or not we live in a world which, as Ronald Reagan when running for the Presidency said, is “better off” that it was four years ago.  In terms of race, of course that is a complicated question.   
For those who naively thought that the election of President Obama would all of a sudden make a black and white world Technicolor (as in the Wizard of Oz, or the park scene in She's Gotta Have It) maybe their glasses were rose colored from the beginning.  For most of us, the reality of the complexities of race has always been a shade of grey.  In a recent article in the Washington Post (http://tinyurl.com/7psmtxr) Reniqua Allen articulates the current difficulties in bringing up race in a mixed setting.  She brilliantly highlights the same sentiments I feel, that after the latest tragedy (fill in the blank... Trayvon, Oscar, Sean, Troy Davis, Rodney King, etc…) “we have big debates over racial prejudice and disparities in this country, and then nothing happens.”   Her premise is that due to Obama’s election, it has made it hard to talk openly about race; I contend that we never had these conversations in the public square in mixed company in the first place.  Normally these conversations, if they take place at all, take place exclusively in single race, or occasionally singularly oppressed group (i.e. Blacks and Latinos) company.

In perhaps the most interesting and honest discussion available about the idea of a post-racial America,  NPR held a discussion nearly one year after the election of President Obama entitled “The Post-Racial Conversation, One Year In.”  In this discussion, two scholars discussed race and the term post-racial.  The first, Ralph Eubanks (author of House at the End of the Road) defined post-racial in two ways; first – race is no longer an issue or an impediment in American society and two – a colorblind society where race is not an issue, we’re all Americans (http://tinyurl.com/yamtnfa).  The other participant in the discussion Mark Anthony Neil (http://newblackman.blogspot.com/) articulated an interesting premise.  He contends that there is a difference between post-racial and post-racists in which the latter is perhaps a time in the future where slights no longer exist.  He also contends that many want to jump into a post-racial society not because the discussions on race have already taken place, but so that those conversations disappear, in other words conversation fatigue. 

Both authors highlight two critical points which are profoundly meaningful to my work; one, that hip-hop has served as an influential conduit or bridge in helping to advance even the possibility of a post-racial society upon at least one if not two generations of young people and two, that those same young folk have what I call historical amnesia.

Perhaps...ok we do not currently live in a post-racial world.  But that day is coming – how long, not long…What is problematic to achieving this lofty ideal is that those of us with direct links to the 60s era Civil Rights Movement (either as the daughters/sons of those who lived through that era, or lived through that era ourselves) want to impose our racial standards and constructs on what we deem, “na├»ve” children or young adults.  Perhaps the current transformational shift through which the younger generations view race in this country is another example (like the aforementioned Civil Rights Movement itself) of older folks sitting back and allowing younger folk to lead us into a better society.  Not through the absence of a deep and profound historical understanding of what has transpired throughout the tumultuous history of America, but because of that understanding. 

Coming to terms with our own racial history and the painful, oftentimes deadly history of race in this country does not mean we have to keep reliving that pain.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting blog post Stuart--I'm glad you posted a link via Facebook. Maybe it's because I live in the deep south and work with indigent defendants (a majority of whom are Black), but I think we are far, far, far away from being a "post racial" society. I think of something that Gloria Steinem once said--(I'm paraphrasing here): "It will be a post racial, post feminist society when we see white men pushing brown babies in strollers through Central Park." White men still hold most of the power and money in this country and others are treated unfairly due to race, gender, and socioeconomic status. I do not see that changing in a substantial way anytime soon. Things are better than they were 40 years ago, but not anywhere near they need to be in order for it to be a post racial society.