Post racial is a term that has been broadly used in the United States, specifically after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, and increased after his re-election in 2012. The term is defined as a theoretical environment where we no longer discuss race, racism, discrimination, and prejudice for we have “theoretically” moved beyond those discussions and on to more elevated ones. We have, in effect, “solved” our racial problems, some say, precisely because we have elected a Black President. Funny? No, it’s not funny at all when people actually believe that it is true.
It becomes even more problematic in light of all the evidence to the contrary. Belief in the concept has the appearance of being intentionally oblivious or obtuse, in order to move beyond our nation’s racial history in hopes of never having to give account or take any personal responsibility for that history; specifically, because we are now in a post racial dispensation, and the past is in the past. Sounds good except that this theoretical environment doesn’t exist. It is unlikely that it will ever exist inside the United States, because we are a nation in deep denial about our past, tremendous misunderstanding and misinterpretation about our present, and completely willing to build a future without addressing any of that and in spite of all of that. It is truly like building a house on sand. A house built on sand has, at best, a tenuous and unstable existence. Shifting sand is not a good foundation upon which to build, especially when it is our nation’s future that we are talking about.
With recent headlines giving endless accounts of the racist comments of an NBA team owner, a man named Bundy proclaiming knowledge of the Negro, a U.S. Congressman citing a lack of a work ethic in our so called “urban-centers”, the Supreme Court decision to eviscerate a major portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the rising rate of incarceration among black and brown men, it is easy to see how America really “theoretically” has moved into a POST Racial society. WHAT! NO, clearly we have not.
Radical right wing elements have actually commercialized hatred of the President of the United States by selling kitschy T-shirts, bumper stickers, and coffee mugs touting racialized images and language, and refuse to validate the Obama presidency based on the illegitimate claim that he has no birthright to the office he holds; this in the face of being elected by the people of the United States twice. We clearly have not moved beyond RACE in America. We have never faced our racial history as a nation, and until we do, any talk of being post racial will not only be theoretical, but delusional.
Racism is not freedom of speech. It is a system of oppression that is built upon policy and procedures that unfairly give some advantage over others, specifically because of the color of their skin. You cannot begin to address its overarching and insidious outcomes until you address the historic legacy upon which systemic racism is built. It will take courage and a collective and sustained effort to CHANGE. It will often be uncomfortable, and yet it MUST be done. If we are to be the nation we should become, we must be brave enough to face our past in order to build our future together.
Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Ph.D.
Founder and Artistic Director
The Conciliation Project and
Virginia Commonwealth University
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