Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Post Racial my Ass

It's true. I’ll admit it.
I see racism everywhere. I even see race inside of race, acutely and finitely.

I.e. If I were to walk into a room of brown skinned beauties, you could not convince me that at least 3% of them would hate me on sight because I make a brown paper bag look like it spray tans.

Being black, being from the south, being of mixed race, having gone to the only black school that matters a historically black university, I am more than well aware that no matter how many liberal, white bloggers pen breathless op-eds about the "post racial America" we now live in because we elected President Obama, racism is not obsolete. It is not gone. It has not vanished.

It just looks different.

Instead of burned crosses on your lawn, it's that call back that never comes for a job that looked like a sure thing until the hiring manager realized you were colored.
Instead of slavery, it is the dearth of colored people in our most powerful positions in business and government.
Instead of separate facilities and schools, it is institutionalized poverty.
Instead of nooses around our necks, it is handcuffs around our wrists.

Racism is subtle. But its undercover status is nothing new.
That is, not if you have always been a minority.


No, to the "open minded" majority who champion our equality causes (unless of course you are gay), who give regularly to the NAACP and even have a black friend, racism is but a footnote in the epic that is our great country. And now, since we have elected Special Agent Hope, it must speak to our greater consciousness as a nation that minorities are not inferior.

That's bullshit of course.

Race is a part of everything I am and everything I do, even if it has nothing to do with the matter at hand. That is the way it is.

I guess it's a black (brownyellowred) thing.
You wouldn't understand.


This sudden uptick in the purchase of rose colored glasses is understandable, if misguided. As it stands, there is no such thing as post-racial America, as catchy a marketing ploy it may be.

Racism is still all around us. It is a part of who we are as a nation, and a large part of what has shaped us as individuals, be it directly or indirectly. That is not something to be ashamed of. It is something that must be acknowledged and discussed, the struggles inherently contained therein respected and ratified where appropriate. Otherwise, there never WILL be a post-racial America, which I personally think is more depressing than the continued assertions that we are already living in that racial utopia.

That being said, and taking into consideration that I am the kind of southern black girl who thinks many things are racist...

Let's admit to each other right here and right now that Senator Harry Reid's comments regarding Obama were right on.

If you have been living under a rock somewhere the last few days, it has recently come to light in a new book that Reid said the following;


"...Obama could fare well nationally as an African-American candidate because he was “light-skinned” and didn’t speak with a “Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one.”
(Source found here)

Its phrasing is poor and unfortunate. I will give you that. But the fact of the matter, it's real talk.


Is any person, especially a person of color, really naive enough to believe in their heart of hearts that if Obama were still himself, still possessed the same flair for oratory and Ivy League qualifications but he were, say, a six foot five, 250 pound, chocolate skinned brother with locs that he would still be president of our country?

If you do, well, dear...
You're an idiot.

And I mean that in the nicest way possible.

It wouldn't happen. Not in 2008. Not because people are still burning crosses on lawns. But because we are still a sum of our parts.

Politics is marketing. Pure and simple. Sure, we would like for the candidate to know a little something about politics, but the right machine behind anyone can make them successful (hello Sarah Palin). Being a successful political player is just as much about what you know as who you know, what you look like, what your back story is...

What you look like.

Obama is a handsome guy, clean cut, a bit on the skinny side as to not be too intimidating to Middle America, and to boot, he's fair skinned. Why? Oh that's right, because he has a white mother.

Remember her? She and her parents featured prominently in the campaign, mostly to create a narrative of the future president but also, in the mind of the most politically shrewd, a way to reassure people overtly or subconsciously leery of a black man as leader of our nation that he wasn't that dangerous.
He couldn't be! He was raised by someone who looks like you!

It was a lucky break for Obama, to be sure. Had he been son of, oh, say a Black Panther, his presidential run would have been shorter than Britney Spears' hair underneath her extensions. But instead, he had a beautiful, intelligent, mother, born to a war hero and a feisty feminist way ahead of her time, who raised him to be kind and empathetic, to be patriotic and to serve his community and country.

If you believe for a second that story would have resonated with people had all the leading characters been black, you have much research about racial relations in this country to do.

All of that being said, President Obama's personal narrative aside, the undeniable fact (at least in my mind) that he would not have been as successful had he been darker or spoken with a "Negro dialect" (holla back M. Steezy!) does not mean that everyone is racist. It doesn't mean that all white people that would have judged him or been uncomfortable with him are horrible people who wish black people were still slaves. That kind of sweeping characterization is EXACTLY why we can't have any kind of frank and honest conversation about race in our country.

It simply means, that we are a sum of our parts. We are ALL a product of slavery, even if our skin color is the different. We are ALL children of the civil rights movement, no matter which side of the fire hoses we would have stood on. We are ALL born of affirmative action and segregation, even if how these social issues have effected us are vastly different.

What Senator Reid said was unfortunately worded, but it doesn't make it any less true. What he said was, perhaps, one of the most politically shrewd things anyone has said aloud about President Obama's election; he would not be president if he looked differently and didn't speak like most of Middle America. I know that the President cannot say so, but I would be willing to bet that inside the inner circle, the reason he brushed off the comment is because he and everyone who orchestrated his unlikely and meteoric rise to fame KNOWS that it's true. Even if they cannot give credence to that fact.

The fact of the matter is, this one historical event is not enough to serve as evidence that we live in a post racial country. As far as I am concerned, we will not be living in a post-racial America until a black man getting elected president is no longer headline news.

My charge is this: let's not get caught up in the politically incorrect bullshit. Let's all see the big picture. Senator Reid's remark was a great opening for conversation, despite the fact that it has been turned into a political pawn. If we could all, me included, stop race baiting, maybe we can finally get around to having that frank and open conversation about race and its role in the formation of our country that we have been meaning to have. Maybe we could all hear each other out, agree to disagree on some things, learn something different that we might else wise never experience. Maybe, just maybe, if we figure out how to ACTUALLY move through the issues of race in America, we might actually move toward a political and social climate where race is not an issue, rather than holding up a once in a lifetime freak event as evidence that we have fully eradicated ourselves from our history. Somewhere, deep down in my cynical heart, I believe that we can exist in that kind of utopia, free from the mental ensnaring of racial tensions. We have but to dream it, and then to work towards it. But the WORK is what must come after the dream. After all, someone already had the dream for us. It is up to us that wish it to be so to try to make that happen.

3 comments:

LadyLee said...

Excellent argument, La. And I too believe what Reid said was true. But, it's just politically incorrect for a white man to state such. That's the real issue. (And if I'm not mistaken, he said this behind closed doors, right?)

We're not in a post racial America, not by a long shot.

Epsilonicus said...

I think the reason people were upset bc Reid's statement destroyed everyone's fairytale that America is post-racial.

ali said...

I like this post. A lot of people got upset about that statement but, it had a lot of truth to it.
And being from the south myself, I know where are no where near being post-racial.
Great post.