Obama, and the Birth of the (Above-)Racist
By Guest Contributor Catherine, originally posted at Hyphen Blog
If only the public’s perception of “progress” were motivated by actual progress. Even a cursory examination of the state of race relations in the US will reveal that we are still a very racially divided nation, in some ways even more so than before Obama’s election. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, just released a report which found that the number of hate groups in the US has increased by more than 50 percent since 2000, and by 5 percent since last year. SPLC attributes the increase, in part, to growing anti-immigrant sentiment—a key point to remember, as Obama’s rise seems to have us thinking about race relations exclusively in black and white.
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:
Evidently, 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:
Clearly 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.
Why not? To reiterate, because:
For more on white privilege, see Systemic, Not Aberrant.
Examples of ongoing racism
Incidentally, it's hysterical that the same people who claim racism is over and done are the one who have attacked Sonia Sotomayor for being Hispanic. Can you say "hypocritical," conservatives? Presumably the "post-racial" era will begun right after you stop criticizing how she pronounces her name, what she eats, her temperament, etc.
For examples of racism against Indians, you can reread Melvin Martin's series of essays:
Indians on the chain gang
Samoans riot over "Sambo" poster
Denial ain't just a river in Africa
Racists lack self-esteem
"Gooks" assaulted with BBs, urine
Martin on racial cowardice
Most racist place in America?
For more on the so-called post-racial era, see Hate Abounds in "Post-Racial" America, Racism Lives in ObamAmerica, and The Post-Racial, Post-Indian Era?
P.S. Be sure to check out the excellent comments in the Racialicious thread on the same subject.
Below: One of the few media moguls who isn't white.