Post-Race America – Sigh

From The Times Online:

Barack Obama’s election as America’s first black president has unleashed a wave of hate crimes across the nation, according to police and monitoring organisations.

Far from heralding a new age of tolerance, Mr Obama’s victory in the November 4 poll has highlighted the stubborn racism that lingers within some elements of American society as opponents pour their frustration into vandalism, harassment, threats and even physical attacks.

Cross burnings, black figures hung from nooses, and schoolchildren chanting “Assassinate Obama” are just some of the incidents that have been documented by police from California to Maine.

There have been “hundreds” of cases since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.

The phenomenon appears to be at its most intense in the Southern states, where opposition to Mr Obama is at its highest and where reports of hate crimes were emerging even before the election. Incidents involving adults, college students and even schoolchildren have dampened the early post-election glow of racial progress and harmony, with some African American residents reporting an atmosphere of fear and inter-community tension.

Unfortunately, the rest is here, if you have the heart for it

Adam Mansbach on “post-race-ism”:

Soon after Obama’s much-parsed speech on race, The New York Times ran a lengthy article (link) on the front page of its Sunday Arts section about artists in ‘post-race’ America.  It may be worth pointing out, given the brevity of the national attention span, that only a few months ago the notion of a black president flew in the face of all conventional wisdom about the biases of American voters.  And now the Newspaper of Record is musing about art in a world beyond race?

Well, not quite: the article was, in fact, solely about black artists (everyone else, it would seem, has been ‘post-race’ for awhile) and despite the titular catch-phrase, it offered no evidence to suggest that race is immaterial to the work of practitioners like Kara Walker and William PopeL – or, more importantly, that racism fails to figure in.

This distinction begins to illuminate the dangerous flipside of suggesting a ‘post-racial’ landscape. While the term suggests, perhaps correctly, that we are moving toward an acceptance of the multifaceted nature of identity — learning to grapple with the idea that a human being can be both Kenyan and Kansan, in Obama’s case, or black and female and interracially married, in Kara Walker’s, or wear any number of ethnic/religious/sexual/political hats simultaneously, as is the case for each and every one of us – post-race almost inevitably seems to imply post-racism.  And while the complexity of human identity is certainly cause for celebration, and undoubtedly contributes to Obama’s appeal with some voters, his candidacy no more heralds an end to racism than Bob Dole’s heralded an end to discrimination against the handicapped.

There is the shifting politics of selfhood, and then there is structural racism, and confusing one with the other is a deadly mistake.  I witnessed a dramatization of this confusion recently at a public talk on race I gave in Minneapolis.  A woman in the audience stood up to explain that racism would be vanquished without any concerted effort on our part, and cited the baby on her hip as proof.  She was Korean, she said, and her husband was black and Irish.  Their son was all three.  He would break the machines that attempted to categorize him.

Although I appreciated her optimism, I had to explain that no such thing would happen.  Rather, her son would be forced to choose a box —and this, in fact, is the particular insidiousness of race.  It is a construct, not a question of biology.  It will not vanish in the face of multi-ethnicity, because it exists for a purpose, and that purpose is hierarchy, division, separation. 

This is also why the enthusiasm for President Obama as the leader of a ‘national dialogue’ on race is misplaced.  Not because we don’t need one – we surely do – but because few people are in a position to move the country toward a state of post-racism, and the president is one of them. 

Talking our way toward healing is a crucial, Herculean task, but it is not the task of a president.  Addressing structural racism on the level of policy is, whether in the form of dismantling a system of racist policing and biased judiciary that has lead to the epidemic incarceration of black men, or revamping a dysfunctional educational system that reinforces racial and economic disadvantage.  Post-race is an idea; post-racism is a moral imperative and a longstanding battle that is far from over.  We must not mistake the one for the other.

It’s all right here

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2 thoughts on “Post-Race America – Sigh

  1. This is within the USA. But you haven’t seen the positive image the USA is now having, thanks to a goodbye Neo-Cons Bush and Welcome Obama! Give Obama a break. The fascistic mindset across America and Europe today began before Obama won the polls yet, and during depressionary times fascistic hate-crimes go up. To say that Obama was the cause of race-hating is baloney.

  2. Hmm. Well, I didn’t actually say anything. I was quoting two articles. But no, I don’t think the articles either say or imply that Obama caused anything. So, we agree! 🙂

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