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Culture & Religion

Why “Post-Racial” Is “Post-Rational”

We want to be “post-racial,” the media tells you, if you read the newspaper or watch TV. We want to “transcend race” is a phrase you have heard ever since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. But who is this “we”, and why is this urge to be “post-racial” — to “get past race” — to “transcend race” — so important all of a sudden?

“Why do pundits…latch on to the post-racial rhetoric so enthusiastically? Because it promises relief for them, a sort of finish line of racial struggle — ironic, I know, since they weren’t the ones carrying the revolutionary load.

If there is no more race — this thinking goes — white people can stop apologizing.”

Courtney E. Martin

Are you one of those people who smile automatically when you hear someone say the word “diversity,” as if there is a camera in the room recording your reaction? Are you one of those people who immediately asserts “color doesn’t matter” when someone broaches a racial grievance? Are you excited about being “on the brink of a ‘post-racial’ society”?

If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions, you probably aren’t black.

“Despite the sincere optimism many White people think post-racial means that when we work together to solve some of societies daunting problems we no longer need to speak explicitly about race…

…whereas to many Black people post-racial means we can speak more openly about race and how we can use our experiences and narratives to turn around many of the problems in our communities.”

Ronald Laird

Mr. Laird’s observation is true, but it’s not because black people aren’t interested in the idea of living in a society where we’ve gotten beyond the strictures of race. It is because black people have gotten used to hearing these neat, tidy, orderly sounding buzzwords whose good intentions outweigh the realities they aim to describe.   

Take the word “diversity,” for instance. The kind of diversity being promoted these days stops just short of allowing access to the locus of power. The kind of diversity we rave about today is a purely social act – the large sums of money in this country are still guarded fiercely, the levers of power still wielded by hands that are almost exclusively white.

“We aspire to be post-racial, but we still live within the structures of privilege, injustice, and racial categorization that we inherited from an older order. We can talk about defining ourselves by lifestyle rather than skin color, but our lifestyle choices are still racially coded.

We know, more or less, that race is a fiction that often does more harm than good, and yet it is something we cling to without fully understanding why — as a social and legal fact, a vague sense of belonging and place that we make solid through culture and speech.”

Hsu Hsu

The kind of real diversity, nay, the kind of real belief in racial equality that have the capacity to accept important decisions made when brown-skinned hands hold the levers of power as authentic, legitimate, and final — this is merely one precondition for a “post-racial” society. Another precondition, one that is largely organic but no less important, is a willingness by participants on both sides of the table to possess a genuine sense of optimism.

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In order for us to get to the point where we can embrace as a country the idea of a “post racial” nation, we have to go beyond the romanticized ideal of color-blindness, or the much maligned trope that insists America is a “melting pot”, or the semantic sleight-of-hand that insists we can simply “let historical bygones be historical bygones”. We have to take another look at the challenges our racial differences and histories present, not to come up with another “answer” to these problems, but to radically rethink how we approach the fundamental elements of our interracial interactions within the social, economic, and philosophical spheres of American life. 

The supreme irony behind the recent desire for Americans to embrace a “post-racial” system of belief?

In actual practice, a real “post-racial” environment will demand a wholly pervasive, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week level of commitment from white Americans, who will have to relearn how to participate in society from a “post-white” perspective.   


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