Post-Racial = Assimilation, Folks

There is no such thing in America as race transcendence, and Obama’s going to find that out real soon…There’s no such thing as ‘post-racial’ in America, because if you push the envelope too far, you’re going to hear about it.”
Tavis Smiley in an July 21 Associated Press story.

I’m amused by Smiley’s quote because it says everything, yet nothing at all.  Statements like this are “controversial” mostly because everyone knows that the person talking is dancing around the real issue.

This dream of post-racial America is about two things: 1) assimilation and 2) alleviating white guilt and boredom with talking about racism.

This is why White folks, liberals in particular, get up in arms about how successfully the Clinton campaign blackened Obama up.  They aren’t necessarily upset about the racism, they are upset that they couldn’t sneak Obama’s blackness past those who still don’t like blackness (we call them “racists”, shock of shocks).  This is an important distinction when talking about race and White liberals. 

(If you don’t believe me, read this piece over at The, which nicely proves the point I’m making by conceding that being called a racist is worse than being a racist, mostly because people say it too much.  Sad.)

Because when we talk about race transcendence in America we are usually talking about transcending the Black race.  No one talks about transcending whiteness.  No no.  Because then you’d have to acknowledge that whiteness not only exists but has unique features and power.  You’d be admitting then, if you are white, that you have it.

And you ain’t gonna do that.

Because blackness is such a drag.  For White folks.  They are tired of talking about it and they are tired of being reminded of it.  Post-racial is about getting past all the things about “blackness” that makes White folks uncomfortable.  It’s not about getting past whiteness so that race takes on a meaning having nothing to do with a power dynamic (which would be truly post-racial). That would require the acknowledgment that there is a relationship of power between Black folks and White folks.  And we still aren’t there.

Obama makes does make White folks feel better in their whiteness.  In this sense, we are at a place where some Black men aren’t necessarily frightening, but this is not the same as redefining the image of blackness in the White imagination.  In other words, Obama is the exception that proves the rule.

This is not his fault, but I understand the skepticism of some prominent Black folks when Obama (seemingly) plays into these feelings by (seemingly) distancing himself from events, people, and places coded in the White mind as (exclusively) Black.  On the other hand, some Black folks of a certain generation do see themselves as the gatekeepers of the race, and by so doing, they re-inscribe this notion that “black interests” are diametrically opposed to “white interests.”

Obama’s biggest challenge as president is to navigate how the America views post-racialness.  We’ve already seen how black signifiers like “brushin the dirt of ya shoulder” and givin ya wife a “pound” send the White media and pundits into a tizzy of concern and paranoia.  Imagine what will happen if he tries to, oh I don’t know, end mandatory minimums or enforce civil rights legislation.

About tlewisisdope

I write. I live in DC.
This entry was posted in Culture, Current Affairs, Obama, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Post-Racial = Assimilation, Folks

  1. You’re right – Obama definitely has a challenge here. It’s going to be very interesting to see how he navigates through it. So far though, I think he’s done a pretty good job at this “one America” deal – but we’ll see what really does happen when the man gets in the White House.

  2. Kit says:

    “Post-racial is about getting past all the things about “blackness” that makes White folks uncomfortable… Obama makes does make White folks feel better in their whiteness. In this sense, we are at a place where some Black men aren’t necessarily frightening… Obama is the exception that proves the rule.”
    Man, Ty, that was an awesome assessment. Great post.

  3. T B says:

    Sure, there are a lot of people who want to pretend like colour and ethnic differences don’t matter, but do you really think that there are biological differences that go deep enough to warrant talk about different races?
    There *is* a lot of racism, and there *are* ethnic groups which are somewhat discrete (e.g. in ghettos vs. not in ghettos), and there *are* nationalities, but I think this talk about different races is very misleading, and a huge problem.
    Is there actually more than one human race? I don’t think that there is (though there are ethnicities and nationalities, and there is racism).
    Here’s a post about these questions –

  4. Tyler says:

    The problem with your formulation is that this “one human race” thing you talk about ignores the power dimension in racial constructs. Sure, there is nothing that links me to other black folks biologically. But our shared struggle does. The fact that all black men face the possibility of being shot for no reason by a cop links us.
    Also – who decides what defines “the human race.” Do black people get to come to the table? Probably not.
    Getting past race is crucial, but when we talk about that what we mean is that race no longer has a power dynamic. That you can recognize that a group of individuals look the same but you don’t dominate or place value on that recognition of difference.
    Thanks for commenting.

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