Friday, July 24, 2009

No, Not Post-Race Yet.

The arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. the other day in Cambridge has opened up another opportunity to discuss race in America. Dr. Gates is Harvard's Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. What complicates the scenario--woman sees (black) men pushing in (stuck) front door of (his) house in nice neighborhood, police respond-- is that the responding and arresting officer Sgt. Crowley also teaches other officers about racial profiling. He claims he was only following procedure; and, Dr. Gates was confrontational. (Note: Police Officers are authority figures with guns and must be treated with deference.)

While the charges have been dropped, and it appears to be a he said/ he said situation the result is an opportunity to discuss race some more, in more depth. Oh, yes, I know we have had a Black Secretary of State or two, Oprah is among the most admired and richest people and we have a President who is black--but that does not mean we are any where near post-race in this country. In fact, after Obama's election, neo-nazi/ex-clan leader David Duke called the president a "visual aid" in recruiting separatists to hate organizations. The FBI and The Southern Poverty Law Center ( have noted increased sales of arms and increased membership in these white separatist (hate) groups.

Race is a social construction that has become institutionalized. There are (at least) two books that look how we have institutionalized racism--one by Gloria Browne-Marshall Race, Law, and American Society : 1607 to Present (2007),and the other is Ian Lopez' White by Law 10th Anniversary Edition : The Legal Construction of Race (2006).

Racism is a form of, and a misuse of , power. Because you are X you can______; if you are Y you can _______. And only Xs with a few Ys can make these rules. So people try to pass as Xs--they are the privileged ones. Racism can be upfront or it can be disguised in the minutiae of life. See for instance, yesterday's New York Times Op Ed "Racial Bias in Fire Exams Can Lurk in the Details"

So, what do we need to do, to move beyond race? Some people are taking the tactic that since we have a few black people of note, we do not need affirmative action programs and we can return to a meritocracy. This same meritocracy that gave a pass to white men who have merit based on their legacies not their ability. . . Meritocracy, like racism is insidious.
In my humble opinion, the first step is to really discuss the issue, the problems, with everyone at the table, and really listen. The next steps should follow based on everyones' input.

BUT we have to take the FIRST step--we can not just blithely skip over it thinking we are post-race because of Obama-Oprah-Powell-Rice.....

p.s. W.E.B. Du Bois' childhold home (or its foundation) is on Rte 23 just west of Great Barrington.

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