Since the Obama election and re-election I have heard talk from many about how wonderful it is that we are now living in a post-racial United States. Obama’s two-term presidency alone for some serves as proof that racism no longer exists. It is undeniable, Obama’s election is significant and there have undoubtedly been significant strides made in race relations over the past 50 or so years but to imply that we still don’t have a great deal more work to do is naïve and dismissive. Every day we are presented with evidence that racism is not just a historical problem but a modern problem as well. The recent comments made by Donald Sterling, Clippers owner, and Cliven Bundy, Nevada cattle rancher, prove that racism and racial insensitivity are alive and well in the United States. In the case of Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy it is easy to argue that they are dinosaurs, relics of the past whose remarks represent archaic views about minorities. People can dismiss their comments by saying things like, “once all of the good ole boys die out, racism will no longer be an issue.” I, on the other hand, tend to believe that it isn’t quite that simple. Racism is not just a product of the elderly; it crosses all racial groups, and all generations. It is a deep societal problem fundamentally rooted in the fiber of our collective being and until America is willing to have an honest and frank discussion about the many factors that drive this hate speech and belief system, then the problem will not go away.
Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling are clearly overtly racist types but to say that their statements are isolated remarks and mainly views held by the elderly, would be simply untrue. I can agree that racism probably tends to be more prevalent among some members of the older generation, but many young people harbor equally racist views. A prime example of this can be seen when we examine some of the dialogue surrounding the first Hunger Games movie. When it wasannounced that the beautiful young, bi-racial actress Amandla Sternberg would play the role of Rue, many young people quickly took to Twitter to express their negative opinions about her being casted in the part. One young person, EJ Santiago, wrote (I’ve included the spelling/grammatical errors made by the posters), “How in the world are they going to make Rue a freaking black bitch in the movie? Lolo, not to be racist buuuut, I’m angry now.” Cliff Kigar said, “sense when has Rue been a nigger.” Another, Lexie Browning in reference to the author, said, “And for the record, I’m still pissed that Rue is black. Like you think she might have mentioned that…? Is that just me or…” Another stated, “Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the innocent blonde girl you picture.” Interestingly enough Suzanne Collins, the Hunger Games author, described Katniss’ first encounter with the character Rue as follows, “…And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes…” Sadly even despite the author’s description, young tweeters for whatever reason couldn’t begin to entertain the idea that Rue could be anything else besides a white girl.
As for my thoughts on the Obama post-racial society myth, Bundy and Sterling’s comments alone do not influence my feelings on the issue. Truthfully much of my opinion comes from my own experiences with learning how to navigate society as a woman of color. Also, having to address the many stereotypes and assumptions that are leveled against me on an almost daily basis and simply seeing the inequity in the world around me. All of these things have all undoubtedly shaped my opinions. Not only do I draw from my own experience when confronting issuespertaining to race, but I also draw from the experiences of others. Marrying my husband, a white man, has proven to be a valuable lesson on race relations, and has helped to reinforce many of my existing opinions on racism.
My husband works in a primarily white-male dominated industry, and he looks to many like he could belong to a white supremacist group with his baldhead and bearded facial hair. Given his situation, it is not surprising that many racists feel comfortable confiding in him and because of this being married to him has allowed me to become privy to a world that many people of color do not experience. Fortunately or unfortunately depending upon how you see it, I have beenlet in on the untold “secret.” That secret being that many white men and woman feel perfectly comfortable using racially charged rhetoric when they are in an atmosphere of perceived safety. The nigger jokes and the ugly remarks are plentiful in my husband’s workplace and they only tend to cease when people of color are around or when the perpetrators (of varying ages) discover that his wife and children are, in fact, people of color. One individual who is known for his repeated racist commentary upon finding out my background had the audacity to become annoyed at not having been forewarned. He expressed his disappointment to another co-worker when he lamented, “Why didn’t you tell me his wife was black?” Apparently in his mind he felt that there was some unspoken rule that says, I should be warned when there are “outsiders” among us.
So do we live in a post-racial United States? I say, no, not yet. The only way we will ever be able to move forward to a place of healing is if we as a society commit to examining the issue of race honestly, and by that I mean if we vow to get down to the nitty gritty of things. If we agree to dissect and analyze the subject and its nuances despite how painful it might be or how heated it might become. Cliven and Donald’s remarks are not isolated incidents, but instead their beliefs are pervasive in our collective mindset and they permeate all levels of our society. Many people have been emotionally, and spiritually wounded in this country on a deep and profound level, which has never been fully acknowledged or addressed and rather than treating their wounds and getting to the cause of their injury, our country has instead given them Band-Aids. For real healing to occur we need to be honest about our country’s history, each of our roles in the larger problem, not sweep things under the carpet, and not dismiss the real experiences of others.
Those of us who are committed to ending racism need to agree to take a stand against it when we see it happening. We need to do what my husband does, stop it in its tracks and let others know when they have crossed the line. We need to stand up and like Adam Silver did in the Donald Sterling case and let the world know that hateful rhetoric simply will not be tolerated. Until we are willing to delve deep, I think we can safely expect more of the same. Talk to me about post-racial America only after we as a nation have entered into a collective therapy session and have made a concerted effort to change the racist attitudes within our society. Until then, let’s stop perpetuating this post racial fantasy because doing so helps no one. Instead, it provides us all with a false sense of security which allows us to not have to take a closer look at ourselves, our actions, and behavior, all of which are the very things that might make real change possible.