Thursday, July 23, 2009

We are NOT living in a Post-Racial America

[Readers beware--what follows is a LONG RANT--the educator in me is taking a back seat to the angry Asian American activist]

To all the people out there who believe that the election of Barack Obama means we are living in a post-racial era,

Yes, I'm talking to you. Yes you. And I'm talking to all you white liberals out there who cry "I'm NOT a racist! I voted for Obama. I had a black roommate in college. My daughter's best friend is an adoptee from China. I'm talking to you too. And I'm talking to all you people of color who think that being a racial minority in this country gives you carte blanche to be an authority on race without examining and reflecting on your internal racism and biases, especially ones about people from racial groups that you don't belong to, or how race and racism intersects with sexuality and gender.

Racism is alive and well. Obama's election didn't end racism. Obama's election doesn't make people more tolerant. Obama is not the messiah, and he will not solve the nation or the world's problems with racial oppression. There have ALWAYS been exceptions. Phillis Wheatley, an African America poet of the 18th century, was embraced by white New Englanders and heralded as a poet of renown. Did that mean that all subsequent black writers were similarly embraced or even that New Englanders decided that black Americans should be educated and encouraged to write and create art? Nope. And this was the NORTH.

Other exceptional African Americans? Oprah Winfrey. Maya Angelou. Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods. Most Americans, of any racial or ethnic background, would probably say that they love/like/respect/admire these contemporary black American celebrities. And sure Tiger Woods can play any golf course in America--but can his niece play any golf course, especially if she doesn't announce who her famous uncle is? There are SEVERAL courses and clubs she'd be barred membership in, based on her race and/or gender. Just because we admire these exceptional African Americans doesn't mean that the average African American doesn't experience serious racism and racial profiling.

And yes, serious racism and racial profiling means those incidents that have come to light at The Valley Club and the arrest of Professor Gates. And don't get me started about the questioning of Judge Sotomayor during her Supreme Court nomination process. Or the racist bile that spewed from Pat Buchanan's mouth about how white folks built America. And let us not forget Brian Kilmeade's gem of saying that unlike the pure Finns and Swedes Americans marry other species and ethnics, which is apparently a problem for K-K-Kilmeade.

This past month has seen people try to defend the actions and behaviors and language of the indefensible. So let me set the record straight people:

*The Valley Club returning the money from the Creative Steps Camp--where the campers are predominantly black and Latino and the members of the Valley Club are overwhelmingly white (Montgomery County where the club is located is over 90% white) is racism. The kids were told to leave not out of concerns of safety, not because they were misbehaving, not because the director had a brain fart and got confused about the number of campers coming. They returned the money and told the kids to leave because they didn't want non-white kids in the pool. They didn't want to change the "complexion" and "atmosphere" of the club. Because having these black and Latino kids made other members feel uncomfortable--and kicking these kids out and refunding their money is racism--it is exercising power and privilege based on RACE and then trying to mask it by claiming other factors (safety, for example), which is simply lame and cowardly, especially after the director named COMPLEXION as a primary factor for returning that money.

*Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. being arrested in front of his house is racial profiling at its purest and simplest form. Even Barack Obama agrees with this assessment, even if he doesn't spell it out. Lucia Whalen calling in the 911 call in the middle of the day is a white woman making assumptions about black men in a wealthy Harvard Square neighborhood and signals the myopia--the utter BLINDNESS that she did not recognize one of Harvard University's most recognizable professors. And this woman works for HARVARD MAGAZINE as a fundraiser! Is she really that stupid? Is she really that racist? The answer to both questions seems to be yes. And the police officer who questioned Gates clearly didn't like being told he was racist and didn't like that Gates was asserting authority IN HIS OWN HOME and demanding that the officer identify himself to Gates and to prove WHY Gates needed to show identification to him. It was not reasonable to think that seeing two men try to open a stuck door means they were breaking into the home and robbing it--it was 12:45pm--it was BROAD DAYLIGHT. Just because you see two BLACK men pushing against a door doesn't automatically mean they were trying to rob that house--what about the luggage? What about the towncar parked in front? What about the driver in the suit and tie? WTF???!!! And it's simply b.s. if anyone thinks that two white men would have had that woman calling 911--she probably wouldn't have looked TWICE if those men had been white.

[Update: I just found this interview with Henry Louis Gates Jr. on The Root, and there is a section where Prof. Gates really breaks down the whole post-racial myth:
I thought the whole idea that America was post-racial and post-black was laughable from the beginning. There is no more important event in the history of black people in America than the election of Barack Obama. I cried when he was elected, and I cried at his inauguration, but that does not change the percentage of black men in prison, the percentage of black men harassed by racial profiling. It does not change the number of black children living near the poverty line. Which is almost a similar percentage as were under poverty when Martin Luther King was assassinated. There haven’t been fundamental structural changes in America. There’s been a very important symbolic change and that is the election of Barack Obama.]

*As for Sotomayor being biased, this is the one that drives me most nuts. Because (and this requires all caps) I AM TIRED OF PEOPLE ASSUMING THAT IF YOU ARE A WOMAN, IF YOU ARE A MINORITY THEN YOU ARE AUTOMATICALLY BIASED AND THAT ONLY STRAIGHT WHITE MEN ARE CAPABLE OF NEUTRALITY OR OBJECTIVITY. Why don't you all check your privilege? Because it's showing--your white privilege, your male privilege, your straight privilege--it's out there. And it's ugly. Really, really ugly. And it makes you look like a stupid bigot. So don't say it. Do not say that people of color are racists and bigots against white people. Don't scream reverse racism. You look like an ass when you do, especially when it's directed at Judge Sotomayor, whose credential are OUTSTANDING by any measure. You don't get to be the hall monitor telling ME what racism looks like.

*And don't tell me that affirmative action harms white men or that white men are the new minority and are being victimized by people of color and women. Don't tell me that WE are taking things that belong to YOU--like your jobs, your promotions, your voice. Guess what? They weren't yours to begin with. Where on earth did you ever get the idea that you OWNED everything and that everyone OWED things to you? No one ever OWED you anything. The 1950s were not a gentler, simpler time when everyone knew their place. It was a time of terror and horror for a lot of folks who had different skin tones, phenotype, gender and sexual identities. And guess what? White men are doing pretty well last time I checked. They make up the majority of people in positions of power--in corporate America, as judges, in Congress, in education, on police forces, as fire fighters. We got one. We got Barack Obama as President of the United States...FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THREE CENTURIES. Every other president has been a WHITE MAN and now we have a mixed-race African American President. BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT RACISM IS OVER OR THAT THE FUNDAMENTAL POWER STRUCTURE IN THE UNITED STATES HAS CHANGED.

So the next time you want to say that Barack Obama's election means that we are living in a post-racial America, don't be surprised if someone secretly or not so secretly rolls their eyes at you or if someone stares at you long and hard. They are staring at you because your attitude antiquates you so much--blinds you to the reality of race in America and what real racism looks like--that they are probably surprised that you can walk around without tripping over yourself since your shortsightedness must make it hard for you to navigate our mixed race American world.

[Rant ends, rationality may start to set in again...but I'm sure I can get fired up in the comment section, if need be]

[Update: Friday, July 24: I'm watching "Morning Joe" on MSNBC and the coverage of the Gates incident and the issue of President Obama weighing in and saying that he thought the Cambridge police acted "stupidly" is driving me CRAZY! The blond female anchor sees SHOCKED that Gates would have called Sergeant Crowley racist (if he did, indeed, call him a racist since that's one of the issues under dispute--this anchor woman wants to somehow push the idea that this story is NOT about race at all! AGHHH!!!! AND she seems to think that Obama just made everything WORSE by talking about it. But you know what? Obama knew EXACTLY what he was doing when he called on that reporter at the end of his health care conference. He said that he wanted to leave time at the end of the conference to get to her question, and then the reporter from the Chicago-Sun Times asked about Gates. Obama had to have known or guessed the topic of her question. And he's not backing down or taking back what he said, and I'm glad. Because he just made the issue of racial profiling national headlines. And yes, we're seeing a lot of ugly stuff coming out. But we're also hearing story upon story by black and brown men (and some women) not nearly as famous as Gates tell their own stories about how they've been harassed by the police or other authorities. I also have to say that Mike Barnacle (who is white) and another one of their corresopndents (whose name is Carlos and is black) are the two people who are INSISTING that race absolutely played a role in this incident and that a white man wouldn't have been arrested outside his home once he was identified as the homeowner. I just want to knock some sense into these people--the mainstream media is part of the problem here--they're interviewing the white officer but no one, NO ONE is giving credence to Professor Gates's statement or the reports from The Root, because apparently a black man can't be objective about his own story so we're going to take the side of the white police officer. AGHHH!!!!!!]

[Second Update, July 24 @9:45pm: So I came home after being at an all day conference and learned that President Obama has apologized for using the word "stupidly" to characterize the actions of the Cambridge Police Department, although he does not apologize for the sentiments he expressed at Wednesday's press conference nor does he back down from his belief in the problem of racial profiling in this case and many others in the nation. In reading this article in The New York Times, I became so FRUSTRATED by the Cambridge police believing that they were OWED an apology by Obama for his remarks--and they say that it is Professor Gates who turned this into a "racial" situation, completely IGNORING the racism that propelled the 911 call by Lucia Whalen. And is it just me, or do others find it weird that Gates is giving Whalen a "pass" on her racial profiling and he's focusing his rage, instead, on Officer Crowley and the other officers. (Sigh).]

OK, rant once again over.


Cipher said...

amen to all of this! couldn't have said it better myself

macon d said...

Wow, there's not much more to say except "great rant!" oh, and that it was good to see Obama address the Gates fiasco so directly.

Laura said...

Fantastic! Thank you. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Pastremnants said...

Amazing way to put, I've been arguing the same general point to too many people since Obama was elected, but I could never put it quite as well. :P

Julia said...

Thank you. I've been over at All About Race today, trying to navigate an extremely frustrating conversation. This post was like reading all the things I wanted to say to these other (white, sigh) commenters but could never have articulated so clearly.

keep the flag flying.

Jennifer said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments and notes of appreciation. I have been SO FRUSTRATED lately about the way that the mainstream media has been talking about race--it makes me want to pull my hair out. So it was good to rant an have a little release!

Please come back and continue to leave comments--I really appreciate hearing from all of you!

LPG said...

Jennifer -- Thank you for putting into words what so many of us are feeling -- finally someone willing to be honest!

To add to your commentary on NOT living in a post-racial America, I thought you might find this of interesting:


Kristen said...

I read your post last week and was equally frustrated, but I wanted to point out that today they released the 911 tapes, and Lucia Whalen may not be the villian we've been assuming she is. She did not identify them as AA in her phone call, and also told the 911 dispatch that she noticed the suitcase and that it may just be someone getting into their own home. Interesting . . .

Jennifer said...

LPG & Kristen,
Thanks for your comments and your appreciation of this post.

Also, Kristen, I did follow the release of the 911 tapes and just blogged about it this morning--if you go to the entry for July 28, 2009 you can find another long and rambling post, from me, about how these tapes really complicate our understanding of race in this situation.

Thanks for stopping by--I hope you both leave comments again soon!