Post-Racial. Does anyone know what this really means? If the 2008 election cycle showed anything, it was that President-Elect Barack Obama embodied something that can’t be easily defined. Not with “Black,” “biracial” or even “post-racial.” Sixty-seven million Americans might’ve been ready for a new African American president. But most Americans—media folk included—have no clue about what they mean when they say post-racial.
Americans aren’t quite as far along as Obama in turning the page to a post-racial world. We still have politicians who think it’s okay to parody the President-Elect as “Barack the Magic Negro” or paint Latinos with a broad brush with “The Star Spanglish Banner.” We don’t deliberately call ourselves Black while acknowledging our White heritage, blurring both in the process. We don’t usually label ourselves biracial without privileging our Whiteness, which is normal for folks who are biracial with one White parent. We’re not colorblind, and yet we’re not completely blinded by color either. No, what Obama has demonstrated is that a post-racial world isn’t a place where one’s race is something to transcend. It’s a world where we get to do much of the defining of who we are, of how we describe ourselves in terms of race and ethnicity. It’s a messy process now, one not easy to get a handle on.
Still, it’s where we all need to go if we’re going to turn the page on the ’60s, on old and worn definitions of race and race relations. For starters, a post-racial world is one where those of us who didn’t “march with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” no longer have to kneel at the altar of the church of the Civil Rights Movement to give homage. After all, did King have to praise Booker T. Washington or Harriet Tubman for their sacrifices at all of his marches before taking us into a new racial reality? This post-racial future really begins when the old Civil Rights establishment relinquishes its claim to represent all Blacks. Especially those of us born after 1964.
A post-racial world is one where “the ’60s” no longer influences our conversation about race, social justice activism or racial politics. It’s a place where those of us from Generation X and Y no longer have to face constant reminders from Baby Boomers about all of their political—and sometimes illegal—activities to change “the system.” Or Baby Boomer accusations of apathy and historical blindness, as if their work on social justice and civil rights is the only work that matters. Last I checked, the radicalism of the ’60s ushered in an era of divisive identity politics and unleashed a neoconservative movement hellbent on rolling back wonderful ’60s ideas like affirmative action and the Great Society.
A post-racial world is one where the media no longer uses terms like “the Black community,” “the African-American community,” or “minorities.” These are tired phrases, ones that have lost all meaning over the past four decades. They merely represent the way the media treated all prominent Blacks they interviewed, as if they could singlehandedly stand in for millions of other African Americans. Or for all other persons of color for that matter. There are 40 million Blacks in the US. Not to mention another 60 million Latino, Asian and Native Americans and other groups of color. No one person, organization, neighborhood or “community” can claim to represent all of our struggles, successes or ideas, not forty years ago, and certainly not now.
A post-racial America is one where we can still claim discrimination and bigotry. But we must make damn sure that we have the evidence to back up our claims. No more complaints about exclusion, no more insinuations of reverse racism, no more excuses for individuals engaged in ridiculous or criminal behavior. Being post-racial doesn’t mean that identity politics should end or that discrimination is over. It means, though, that all of us should take a moment to breathe before picking a joker from the race card deck.
The same is true of excuses made by ’60s-era liberals and conservatives for the disadvantaged among us. Those excuses don’t fly in a post-racial America. Crime, gangs, drugs, poverty, inadequate education, housing and healthcare. They are as much a product of class inequality—as most poor people in America are White—as they are of racial inequality. “The Man” may be the problem, but “The Man’s” issue these days is greed, or economic bigotry. To say, though, that “the poor will be with us always” is a sorry excuse for doing nothing. It’s a conservative “Oh, well” to growing economic inequality and a justification of it, akin to Hinduism’s caste system of Untouchables. Both are worn-out ideas that do nothing to improve the lives of all Americans, regardless of race and class, and have no place in our post-racial world.
I think I can speak for many from my generation and my younger siblings’ generation when I say that we have grown tired of all of the posturing and rabid arguments that have gone on for the past forty years. We know that a post-racial America isn’t one that’s all about the Black-White nexus, affirmative action or welfare. It’s about redefining who we are as Americans and creating the means necessary for us to see race without making race a big deal. This is hardly the end game for defining post-racial. It’s just a starting point.