Since the election of Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. to the presidency of the United States, a position some have called the most powerful job in the world, there is a growing sentiment in the media that the United States is now in the “post-racial” era – that since we have elected a black president, racism, driving while black, profiling by law enforcement and TSA agents, redlining by private (and public) lending institutions, legal discrimination, purse-clutching and hate crimes like lynchings, beatings, graffiti, and threats of the same have somehow miraculously evaporated. However, the support and election of President-elect Obama by millions of white, black, brown, yellow and red Americans, while perhaps a fulfillment of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality, is not the end of racism or racial prejudice or even race-relations in America.
To begin, let us understand that President-elect Obama is a man of mixed racial ancestry, a true AFRICAN-AMERICAN if ever anyone had claim to the name. His father was Kenyan by nationality, born and raised in the Motherland to be sure. His mother was United Statesean by nationality, born in Kansas and raised traversing this great country at her parents’ whim and circumstance. He is a black man in white face, or a white man in black face, or neither, or both. And while it is part and parcel of who he is, his perspective on the world we live in (and he is now employed to lead), it is not a determining factor in how our society, from federal courts to this blog handles race relations and racial exposition in the millennial United States of America.
It is also important to ascertain exactly what this election was about: a change from upward redistribution of wealth toward the majority of American citizens; a reversal of the spaghetti western “diplomacy” employed by the Bush Administration; a repudiation of the disaster capitalism which used (or created) horrific events like the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the consequences of government inaction and failure in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the invasion of a sovereign nation by these United States under inadequately informed and/or false pretenses, to create regulation-free zones where free market pirates could plunder public coffers for private gain; an exercise in civic free speech saying loudly, “that to secure [basic] rights [for the citizens], governments are instituted among men, deriving their power from the consent of the governed, that whenever any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it.” And though Barack Obama is a black man, his election did not overnight make this a majority black country, nor did it erase the history that so many like Fannie Lou Hamer, Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, A. Langston Taylor, Charles I. Brown, Leonard F. Morse, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, President John Kennedy, Cesar Chavez, Susan B. Anthony, and others have so diligently worked for, to hold this country up to the potential of its ideals.
His election did not dismantle, in and of itself, the systemically discriminatory foundations which have for centuries qualified and quantified black people first as property, then as second class, then as first class “with some reservations” citizens. We are by no means living in a post-racial era. When President-elect Obama is not held up as “the best black man in America” but “the Best Man in America,” maybe we are nearing the end of the racial era. When President-elect Obama is not held up as the monolithic representation of what black people should be, but what all Americans should aspire to, maybe we are nearing the end of the racial era. When my black student decides to pick out her afro, and her white classmates don’t try to pet her like she’s exotic or foreign, maybe we are nearing the end of the racial era.
Race is part and parcel of our existence in the United States. It is a part of who we are as a nation, united in our ideals, rather than our ethnicity, or our language, or our physical appearance, or our economic or political philosophy, or our taste in music. The interplay of red, white, black, brown, yellow and other peoples is what has built this nation, this American nation. And this finally, is where we live. If we want our nation to be closer to that “more perfect union,” then we are responsible for making it so. Not by ignoring or relegating conversation about race to some “by-gone era,” but by addressing the realities in a forthright manner. As President-elect Obama is constantly iterating, “the road may be long,” but we can make that change if we keep focused on the goals iterated over the last two centuries, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed . . . with inalienable rights . . . life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
If we are lulled into believing that because a black man was elected president that we have no further left to go, no more work to do as individuals on ourselves to improve our society as a whole, then we negate those rather large steps that we have taken, and that blindness will lead us into darkness. I leave you with the words of Langston Hughes.
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed-
I, too, am America.