Another post-racial America moment: small-town law enforcement called the President the N word; refuses to apologize. I am noodling over the idea of doing a 20th anniversary edition of my book Don’t Believe the Hype, on race/politics/culture/media. I am not depressed about race relations today; rather, I think we have another chance to turn the lens on ourselves and examine our incredible capacity for perpetuating stereotypes. What the past 20 years have taught me, among many things, is that no legal equality alone produces societal equality. We as humans have to change. How? For one, we better get over the concept of being post-racial, posthaste.
Please head HERE, to The Root, to read my musings posted on The Root:
I hate the term “Post Racial.” It’s weasely. You might as well say that you’re post-reality.
To wit: a new report released today by Congress, revealing that 22% of Americans who have been unemployed for a year or more are African-American. The black population is 11.5 percent of the labor force.
I suspect, given the way unemployment figures are counted, that the figures are actually much starker.
The level of African-American joblessness is a profound opportunity. It’s an opportunity for us to restructure the ways we think about social mobility, business ethics, and the impact of employment on issues from mental health to child-rearing. It’s a profound opportunity for us to look at how the demographic least likely to vote for President Obama share many of the same economic issues as African-Americans. I’m talking about white Southerners in economically challenged states like Mississippi and Alabama. (Those states ranked 50 and 42 in per capita income, and ranked the lowest on the percentage of white voters who chose Obama, 11 and 10 percent respectively.) It’s a profound opportunity for us to challenge categories like “African-American” and “white Southerner,” and figure out how we can develop language about groups and constituencies that is not too broad, but does not ignore reality.
Well, that’s a lot of opportunity. There’s a lot of work to do.
After the State of the Union, MSNBC host Chris Matthews made this comment about the President:
He is post-racial, by all appearances. I forgot he was black tonight for an hour. You know, he’s gone a long way to become a leader of this country, and past so much history, in just a year or two. I mean, it’s something we don’t even think about.
What are we to make of that?
Well, the Associated Press did a smart piece (featuring one of my Twitter friends, @profblmkelley) on whether black folks want to give up blackness. (Short answer: no.)
That’s one way of deconstructing Matthews’ statements. What it called up for me was the fundamental question of payback. Andrew Hacker, the author of books including 1992’s Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, wrote about race and voters in the New York Review of Books shortly before the 2008 election:
Resentment of perceived black privilege is also involved, as we have seen with respect to affirmative action, and even fear of some kind of racial payback. Over half of a largely white sample told a Rasmussen poll that they feel Obama continues to share at least some of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s positions on America.
The fear of black payback goes back as far as fear of slave rebellions. In modern politics, it means that some voters fear that black politicians will favor black interests, just as white politicians have often favored white interests. In fact, if you look at the history of American government, there has been a far greater transfer of black wealth to white Americans and skewing of public funds towards non-blacks than the reverse.
Instead of a payback mentality, the Obama Administration seems to deliberately be hands-off on dealing with problems facing black America. Last month, there was a spat between the Congressional Black Caucus and the Administration over whether the administration was doing enough for African-Americans. (According to economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux, the real non-employment rate among African-Americans may be 27%.) This is a struggle to keep an eye on, because it begs the question: is the only way to be a post-racial President to ignore the specific structural inequities of race, and if so, at what cost to the nation?