Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Debunking the Post-Racial Myth



If it was one thing that made my teeth grate during the 2008 Presidential campaign, it was the notion that Barack Obama was signaling a "post-racial" era in America. Political pundits--conservative or moderate or even liberal--deemed our times the "post-Civil Rights" era. The popular idea was that if white America can vote for a black man as president, this would somehow negate the last few hundred years of American racism. Of course, it was utter rubbish.



Conservative commentator George Will early in the Democratic primaries crooned that Barack Obama's win would "bring down the curtain on the long running and intensely boring melodrama 'Forever Selma,' staring Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton." Chris Matthews of MSNBC marveled that with candidate Obama there was, "No history of Jim Crow, no history of anger, no history of slavery....All the bad stuff in our history ain't there with this guy." Somehow all these pundits seemed to find a post-racial America despite the race-baiting of the Clinton campaign, the bizarre P.U.M.A. movement and Geraldine Ferraro's attempts to racialize feminism, white America's freak out meltdown over Jeremiah Wright and the full blown ugliness that was the McCain-Palin hate-fest.

Hoping for their post-racial dreamland, they failed to notice that to become the first black president, Barack Obama had to twist, shape and perform near acrobatic feats to keep white America (who in the end did not give him the majority of their votes) placated and at ease. Somehow the very pundits that could gloat about a post-racial society from one side of their mouths, could still worry endlessly about Obama's ability to connect with regular white voters. That his chances even among the more "enlightened white voters" were greatly influened by the fact that he was "black enough" to still be African-American in their eyes but was also not "too black" as someone of multi-racial heritage, is one of those taboo topics we're still not supposed to politely discuss in public conversation. As I once heard a black DJ joke to a colleague over the radio, it was unlikely white America would elect someone of a different demeanor than Obama or even a different complexion. This was followed by nervous laughter and the topic shifted--quickly.

Speed up to month four of 2009 and the election of a black president has seen everything from a rampant rise in white supremaicst hate-groups to incitations of violent government overthrow, secession and fake-populist, corporate-sponsored anti-tax protests with names that make them easy to mock.

Don't let me even start on the lack of post-racial awareness in American foreign policy, which seems to repeatedly find itself as odds with the darker, poorer masses of the world.

And of course, those are just the more overt issues. Rarely discussed are the varied forms of domestic institutional racism that do not disappear under an Obama presidency--from an unfair prison system to racial wealth inequality gaps. These are race-based systems that will negatively impact the lives of millions of people of color far beyond any hate-group or FOX News. And it should put the lie to any claim of some post-racial society that will magically appear because black and white kids can now identify with a bi-racial African-American in the White House. As Henry Giroux writes in a recent article, "the idea that we have moved into a post-racial period in American history is not merely premature - it is an act of willful denial and ignorance."

Giroux's article below:

Youth and the Myth of Post-Racial Society Under Barack Obama

Monday 27 April 2009

Henry A. Giroux t r u t h o u t Perspective

With the election of Barack Obama, it has been argued that not only will the social state be renewed in the spirit and legacy of the New Deal, but that the punishing racial state and its vast complex of disciplinary institutions will, if not come to an end, at least be significantly reformed. From this perspective, Obama's presidency not only represents a post-racial victory, but also signals a new space of post-racial harmony. In assessing the Obama victory, Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein wrote, "It is a place where the primacy of racial identity - and this includes the old Jesse Jackson version of black racial identity - has been replaced by the celebration of pluralism, of cross-racial synergy."

Obama won the 2008 election because he was able to mobilize 95 percent of African-Americans, two-thirds of all Latinos and a large proportion of young people under the age of 30. At the same time, what is generally forgotten in the exuberance of this assessment is that the majority of white Americans voted for the John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket. While "post-racial" may mean less overt racism, the idea that we have moved into a post-racial period in American history is not merely premature - it is an act of willful denial and ignorance.

read full article here.

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