Obama, and the Birth of the (Above-)Racist

May 8, 2009

It wasn't so very long ago that we were all too aware of the
racism-infused anti-immigration sentiment that surrounded last year's
elections and talks of immigration reform. Back in those days, the Pew Hispanic Center
found that half of Latinos believed their situations were worse than
they had been a year before -- and this year, the situation only seems
to have worsened. Polls commissioned by New American Media now find
that 82 percent of Latinas report that discrimination is a major
problem for their families. And let's not forget Committee of 100's recent national survey, which found that Asian Americans still experience considerable discrimination.

And, contrary to apparent popular opinion and the cheery anecdotes
featured by the New York Times, the situations of blacks haven't
improved markedly either, as Matthew Yglesias of ThinkProgress points
out in his own analysis of the New York Times / CBS news poll results:

I’m surprised that as
many as forty-four percent of blacks say that both races have equal
opportunity. I think the evidence is unambiguously clear that they do
not. African-American children have parents with lower levels of income
and education. Their families, even when they have above-average
incomes, tend to have less wealth than white families. And
even controlling for parental income and educational attainment, black
kids do worse in schools than white kids. Then beyond all that, there’s
clear evidence of discrimination against job applicants with “black” names
that tends to suggest a broader pattern of employment discrimination.
There are inequities in the criminal justice system both in terms of
more punishment being meted out to black offenders, and the police and
the courts doing less to protect black victims.

race relations haven't improved quite as much as people want to
believe. Clearly, in some situations, race relations have even
deteriorated further. So what gives? Perhaps the (apparently unfounded)
optimism uncovered by the poll has less to do with respondents'
personal observations of progress than it does with the overwhelming
significance they placed on Obama's election. Certainly the election of
the first black/bi-racial US president is groundbreaking -- and many,
I'm sure, hoped that the very possibility of his election signified a
momentous shift in the way Americans think about race. But the
misguided belief that everything is automatically better now has
unfortunate repercussions.

What begins as a benign belief
that things have changed for the better can quickly turn into the
obstinate conviction that racism is behind us and need not be addressed
any longer. I can't count how many times, since Obama's election, I've
been advised to take my race relations commentary down a notch because,
in post-race America, we are too "above race" to necessitate continued
critical discourse on the matter. My own sister called me a racist
recently for addressing race issues on the Hyphen blog because,
according to her, doing so is an affront to everything that Obama has
built for us. Such sentiments are shockingly pervasive, I've found --
so much so, that I've taken to calling people who harbor them
"(above-)racists" -- people who think that race is so far beneath them
that they can't help but actually be racist. They are best known for
their belief that Obama's election means either 1) racism no longer
exists or 2) white racism no longer exists and/or 3) pointing out
racial differences (whether casually or critically) is, itself racist.
Not exactly what Obama had in mind, I think, when he said this:

"...the path to a more perfect union means
acknowledging that what ails the African American community does not
just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of
discrimination -- and current incidents of discrimination, while less
overt than in the past -- are real and must be addressed, not just with
words, but with deeds..."

even Obama doesn't think racism is behind us, and the rest of us would
do well to get that straight too. We need to recognize that one man's
rise -- however monumental -- doesn't in and of itself change the
structural inequalities that have long defined and limited the
experiences of people of color. Believing otherwise reduces Obama to a
token -- a misleading indicator of illusory social change -- rather
than correctly recognizing him as an important step forward on a
(still) long journey towards racial equality.

Image by flickr user tsevis, used under the Creative Commons License.


Catherine A Traywick

Managing Editor

Catherine is the managing editor at Hyphen. Her work has appeared in TIME, the Bay Citizen, Ms. magazine, he Huffington Post, as well as broadcasted on CBS radio. She is a master's student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.



It just may be that people are starting to look at the glass being half full, thus providing hope with the idea that if we work hard enough one day it will actually be "full".
This is a good article that brings up really important issues about the Obama phenomenon that have not been raised nearly enough--even by erstwhile progressives or minorities, including Asian Americans.The promotion of this disingenous idea that America is now "above racism" (or "Post-Racial" to use a trendy NewSpeak phrase) is one reason why Barack Obama was brought to the power in the first place by the US political establishment.There have been analyses of Obama's rise, his politics, and his broader political significance in terms of race and other issues.But these perspectives have not been allowed to penetrate the Mainstream bubble reality or Obama Mania.Their bottom line: Barack Obama is not quite the progressive, multicultural/racial agent of hope and change that the media is touting him as.In fact, he may be the very opposite.Juan Santos put it best:"In the white imagination, Barack Obama represents, not the 'End of Racism' (racism has an experiential, existential meaning for only the barest sliver of the white population), but, he represents, rather, the end of the struggle to end racism."Barack Obama And The “End” Of Racismhttp://www.countercurrents.org/santos120208.htmBarack Obama: The Empire’s New Clotheshttp://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=node/10879Obama, King and Kennedy: Empire and the “End” of Racismhttp://the-fourth-world.blogspot.com/2009/01/obama-king-and-kennedy-empire-and-end.html
Obviously with Whites, especially racist ones, it's in their self-interest to say "nothing to see here, everything is a-okay". But, the thing about the African-Americans doubling in numbers that say the relations are good is deeply disturbing.My guess is that they are trying to show they are happier with Americans finally voting a person of color in office. I hope to God that African-Americans, en masse, start realizing that these sorts of polls are designed to do one thing: curtail their progress (as well as that for other people of color).Those are some sneaky tactics. There are alot of sneaky tactics going on right now, almost solely from the right. Sometimes I think we'd be better off fighting for legislation to buy every home a computer before worrying about the other stuff. Alof of people of color have little understanding of all the behind the scenes plotting and calculating action being taken to set civil rights back 50 years. Jesus, trying to manipulate people that are sincerely trying to be cooperative and optimistic, that is just wicked behavior.