Friday, December 5, 2008
With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency the question has come up, are we living in a post-racial society? In other words has the concept of race lost its cache, or meaning? Let's examine this and see what we come up with, it may be that we've reached that land that Dr. King saw from the mountain top. Of course, it may be as illusory as a mirage in the Sahara on a hot day.
What lies at the heart of this question is the notion that something fundamental has changed within society, either as a result of Obama's campaign or independent of that campaign. As we consider this question it would be good to lay out some facts that we can take into account. First of all 53% of Americans voted for Obama, or against McCain, as the case may be. While an almost equal number voted for McCain/Palin or against Obama. This being said we're talking about millions of people on each side of the line in almost equal numbers. You'll recall it was the independent/undecided voters that tipped the scales in Obama's favor.
Fact number two: throughout the campaign Obama was dogged by questions of lack of experience, etc. This was not the first time a candidate was labeled with that tag, but it was particularly galling in Obama's case, because it was very reminiscent of the infamous "grandfather clause." Witness the contrast here between McCain, who like Bush had generations of "leadership" experience behind him, while Obama had only his own experience in college and community organizing. How was he to overcome this gap without going back in time and rewriting history. It appeared to be an insurmountable gap.
Fact number three: everything was thrown at him, including the kitchen sink, by Hillary, McCain and Palin. No stone was left unhurled, including the use of his middle name as a label of unfitness for the job.
Fact number four: everything was thrown at him short of playing the obvious race card. Obama was cool enough to never even bring up race, but he did respond forcefully when his opponents tried to broach it in a circuitous manner.
Fact number five: race was an issue, albeit an unspoken issue. It was the 800 lb. gorilla in the room, but Obama deftly avoided it to the consternation of some of his Black supporters, who in the end were understanding enough to know why he was leaving that issue alone.
What his opponents did say about race came through when they spoke of his numbers. They always tried to make him "the Black candidate." In the past other candidates, like Carl Stokes, were dogged with accusations like this and came up with creative ways of addressing it, without alienating his supporters of either race. Obama was just as deft in dealing with the Reverend Wright issue, which was a race issue; his middle name issue "Hussein," which was a race/religious issue and the terrorist association issue, which was not so much a race issue; but spoke to how "different" he was compared to the other candidates.
All of the above issues were couched in a blanket of "difference." All the diversity training in the world was not enough to keep the other candidates from pointing out, "he's not like us." The logical conclusion here is that race is still very much an issue that cannot be overlooked, just like that 800 lb. gorilla in the room.
In the end it appears that Obama won not because of some drastic shift in the status quo, or the racial proclivities of whites, but rather by the use of superior strategy, gamesmanship and good timing.
The fact is America is as backwards when it comes to attitudes about race today as it ever has been. In a presentation I'm readying for publication entitled, "Black Men On The Money," I'll deal with the some of these attitudes and perceptions. Here's a little exercise you can do right now to see where you're really at on the issue of race. Take a look at the picture at the beginning of this article and make a note of what race you think each of these people represent. Some of them you may know by name and/or face and others may be unfamiliar to you. Regardless, without using a reference work, or the internet to try and identify them first, just look at them as people and see if you can correctly identify their "race."
When you're done go to www.quadratix.org for information on each person seen in the picture. This is something that we all need to look at very carefully and consider what our own attitudes are toward the persistent question of racial identity in America.