Intro and critique of post-racial ideology

I posted this as a facebook status a while ago, and it resonated with some people; so I figured I’d post it here as well to kick things off. It’s about “race”, so I’ll give a quick intro of my views on race.

Race will not a huge topic for me, mostly because being black (full disclosure) I’ve already thought so much about race, it’s already caused me so much pain, angst, rage, and sorrow, that I’ve essentially decided to take long, periodic breaks from thinking about race. I think it’s good for all people who have been systematically discriminated against to occasionally shut it out of their minds (if they can) and simply live. It is a pity that some people let racial ideology color all of their thought and discourse. I went through a period where I read nothing but race-related literature, and although I learned a lot, I became militant and cynical.

Don’t get me wrong: The fight against racial injustice is far from over, but in order for a “person of color” (what a vapid moniker) to grow more fully in the great personal and Emersonian[1] sense, I sincerely believe they must take a break from all race-related thinking. For me, I can’t watch a movie or read a book about “black issues” or “the state of black men” without feeling the inevitable rage or disgust frothing and foaming in my bosom. It is there, I cannot deny it; and many times, I simply laugh it off. I know it is reality, but sometimes, we should leave reality. Why? To get a better view of our own condition, just like traveling helps you get a more comprehensive view of your own country.

I have been both victim and perpetrator of racism on several occasions. Weird, huh? I know you won’t hear many people say this, but I believe most racism is unconscious because of the subtle cultural cues we ingest as we engage with our environment, so it stands to reason that I could be both, even at the same time! (Especially from the American point of view: America was racially stratified from day 1. In other words, the Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal” was an utter hoax, unless one assumes that black men were not actually “men”)

Anyway, if you’re still reading, athena bless you, and here you go:

Post-race as a stupidity. There is a false ethos that says America is beyond “race” (and whoever ascribes to this ethos thinks they are so wise, progressive, and free). With the advent of political correctness and the voice of its cynical and myopic backlash, you can’t be black and discuss racism at the same time without being called a race-baiter. [2] And so now there is a whole behemoth of schmucks who believe that every time race is mentioned as one of many possible causes or the main cause, the speaker instantly loses all credibility. “Race can be neither cause nor effect. Are you still talking about this? It’s 2013. C’mon! Just get over it, will you?” No method of coping could be more dumb and useless! [3] These people have historical Alzheimer’s. They really think America can deliberately practice all types of racism for several centuries, then eradicate legal racism in 1964 – and 50 years later, all incidences of personal and communal racism will vanish into thin air. Really, I wish they were right. Laws have always changed faster, and more gracefully, than cultural attitudes. And since racism was a fact of culture for centuries, this means it was handed down like a tradition, a “just the way it is” – in the same way that Christmas is a tradition. And now what people want is a national affliction of collective amnesia – and for everyone to shake off their past oppressions like a bad dream – “All the women please stand up, and shake off all the injustices men have done to you”. Women would very well be shaking for all eternity!

[1] To give you an idea of what I’m trying to say, here is an excerpt of Emerson’s seminal essay, Self-Reliance: “Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; — and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients.” Typical Emerson, right? But perhaps Ralph Ellison put it better in The Invisible Man by realizing that a race is the collection of its individuals, and we disallow ourselves to be whole human beings if we always think through the lens of race, politics, and/or ideology.

[2] If you are not familiar with the concept of ‘race-baiting’, read up on it. It is part of the “cynical and myopic backlash” to political correctness that I mentioned earlier, which is a direct outgrowth of insidious white privilege that fancies itself so objective, honest, and “post-race”. I will admit, there are some blacks and others who use the “excuse of racism” as a crutch, but I contend this is far from the norm. Trust me, no one would be thinking about race if they didn’t have to. Why? It sucks. This is not a call for pity; this is the lived experience of actual people.

[3] Word choice is the most agonizing task for a writer. By “dumb”, I mean it is a lazy and ahistorical way to view racial issues. By “useless”, I meant it’s basically ignoring the complaints of the oppressed, because it’s saying those complaints don’t exist. The oppressed are not always right, but they should be heard.

Most of my posts will be much shorter than this diatribe, as I’m terribly fond of the aphorism. To give you an idea of what to expect, I hope to offer you a series of very rich debate openings, in a very scatterbrained fashion. The life of the mind is utterly disturbing, enigmatic, and friendly — won’t you join me?

9 Comments

Filed under Race and Religion

9 responses to “Intro and critique of post-racial ideology

  1. Victor A

    I recommend not describing the thinking of people who say race isn’t an issue anymore as dumb and useless. There is something to learn from the way they think, if not what they think. There is also something to learn from the effect it has just had on you.

    • Darius Liddell

      Thanks for the comment, Vic! I see your point, and the original way this was written was as a polemic and rant. Then I posted it to Facebook, and people liked it, so that reinforced my opinion that all was well in the world 😉

      But seriously, word choice is the most agonizing task for a writer. By “dumb”, I meant it is a lazy and ahistorical way through which to view racial issues. By “useless”, I meant it’s basically ignoring the complaints of the oppressed, because it’s saying those complaints don’t exist. — But maybe I should edit to make that more clear! Endless rewriting… but that is redundant.

      And true, I have tried a lot to walk around in the shoes of white privilege, and no one has it easy when it comes to racial issues, including white people. Whiteness, as a social construct, is just as complex as blackness, and it is a growing field in academia. Which I think is a good thing.

      The effect it’s had on me? Well, studying that is a work in progress. My feelings are anger, but also understanding. I think I understand the desire for post-race, but I think it has many pitfalls.

      I hope this adequately responds to your concerns. Glad to see you are engaged enough to write a comment. Most people have lots of thoughts after reading, esp. when they disagree, but they don’t post comments. I wish they did. This is not my soapbox, but a discourse.

      I’ll add my word clarifications as a footnote.

  2. Hannah Spielberg

    Thanks for your post Darius. I thought this op-ed from yesterday’s NYTimes was very on-point and relevant to your thoughts: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/opinion/sunday/civil-rights-justice-on-the-cheap.html?pagewanted=all&src=ISMR_AP_LO_MST_FB&_r=0

    • Darius Liddell

      Hannah, thanks for a great article. Sarah Rudolph had to live with one eye for over 50 years because of senseless violence – how can one be repaid for that? The story of Sarah Rudolph is obviously tragic, and, to me, it’s a little unsettling that the girls who died in that bombing were called “heroes” and that the government is trying to compensate them. It was senseless violence that killed 3 young girls. Nothing can change that. It’s always very interesting when people are somehow “paid back” for stuff like this. Isn’t it bribery in a way?

      This passage really struck me:

      “When 16-year-old Johnny Robinson was shot in the back by a Birmingham policeman hours after the 16th Street church bombing for allegedly having thrown rocks at “white” cars, his mother, already widowed by murder, went into a spiral of misery that resulted in institutionalization, orphaning the rest of her children. The family received no counseling or charitable assistance, let alone a settlement from the city. How do we calculate what they are owed today?”

      Robinson and Ware were killed the same day the girls were killed. To the state, their death was a complete non-issue. Two young boys, murdered at the whims of white people, over nothing. Johnson’s mom was already widowed by murder. How can her children be compensated today? How can Emmett Till’s descendants be repaid? Medgar Evers? And the countless black men who assumed, and were right, going into court that they would never be given a fair trial? How many of the average white citizens were accomplices to murder, or the perpetrators themselves — and got away with it simply because they were white? When people are really honest about the history of race relations in America, when they’ve really looked into the history, and not just current relations — god, it’s depressing. Very.

      That’s the thing about post-race. It sees itself as so progressive because it can only see the present and the future. And it only sees these with rose-colored glasses. The lack of historical perspective is my type of injustice.

      Again, thanks for your comment, and please feel free to respond on this or other posts. Too many people read and don’t share their thoughts.

  3. Race can forever be an issue for everyone everywhere irrespective of country and nationality. During an interview with Morgan Freeman on 60 minutes back in 2005 concerning racism and black history month, he retorts, “How are we going to get rid of racism? Stop talking about it!
    I use this quote to bring out this point: racism is alive, yet as you said it’s part the unconscious mentality of individuals. Everyone is exposed to it. It’s been wide spread throughout the past 100 years, but it has become a tolerable issue in America. It’ll “never” go away. Racism is a prejudice mentality as mentioned in the original post.
    I agree with Freeman. Historically, race has only been an issue when someone mentions it and displays actions that violate individual civil rights.
    It doesn’t have to be this way. It can end. I believe that some people in the world are beginning to realize the importance of accepting others regardless of their race, ethnicity, or nationality.

    Good posts, points, and comments.

    • Darius Liddell

      The morgan freeman interview is disturbing, because that 1 minute is completely taken out of context, and now it has 1.6 million views on youtube, and it went viral for a while with people just saying, “well since morgan freeman said it, someone who I respect and he’s a black person… then he has a point.” It’s almost as if people are waiting for a black people to forget about racism so they can forget as well.

      I believe racism can end, but not only if people “stop talking” about it. They have to stop making decisions based on it, eliminate all beliefs in stereotypes, and basically ignore the last 300 years of American history. Not that easy, and IMO, not wise. People need to know and acknowledge their history. Like individuals, a country is always least harsh when criticizing itself; America is no exception. Racism is engrained in the American tradition; the country was practically founded on it. It’ll likely take 100s of years for the magical post-racial society to appear.

      My response to Morgan Freeman:

      He has a good point that black history is American history, but historically, this is not taught in schools, so that is why African-American fraternities and sororities, and black history month and all these other ‘separatist’ traditions developed in the first place. White americans denied that black people were just as American — and just as human — as they were, so that is why these traditions developed. I’m sure Freeman knows this, but I’m not sure if we still *need* these traditions. I think we do. The truth is, so few Americans care about black history, because so few Americans — and so few people — have a historical perspective in general. The unwillingness to confront American stupidity is a special case of the unwillingness to confront — and seek out the nuances of — human stupidity (in general).

      The road to hell is paved with good intentions. America is a prime example of this, in spite of her chronic genius.

      Mike Wallace’s response to Freeman is absurd, “How are we going to get rid of racism…. ” The point of black history month is not to get rid of racism, it’s just so that people that talent and innovation among blacks wasn’t totally ruined — although absolutely stultified — by racism. It’s just saying “Hey, black people are smart too.” It’s not only that the history of black achievement was suppressed — just simply ignored. You can apply these same arguments to the struggle of women to receive credit for their achievements.

      Sexism and racism cannot be ignored. If my dad and I have relationship issues, if we stop talking about them, they won’t magically go away. It’s a sloppy fix.

  4. Awesome article Darius.

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