How’s That Postracial Thing Working Out For You?

Jose Vilson Jose, Race

Eric Holder

Eric Holder

O, humans. After Barack Obama was elected, some of you seriously thought that the color barrier had officially collapsed. Some of you were grinning extra hard since you thought all the problems of the world were laid off your shoulders, as if we were only one John Hancock away from true world peace. Evidently, someone didn’t send the memo to Eric Holder, the first African-American US Attorney General:

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder said at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. “Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial …This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle, it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race-conscious, and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.”

Tough talk coming from a man born and raised in Bronx, NY. But that’s for the majority of Black people, right? I mean, white people consider a neighborhood less desireable if Black people live in it, and most people, Blacks and Whites included, don’t truly know the reason why Black History Month was created, right? There’s still higher poverty rates amongst Blacks and Latinos than Whites even though we’re “all” going through an economic crisis, but that’s OK, because there’s a Black man in the White House. He’s smart, athletic, polite, conversational, and articulate, so he’ll be attacked on his policies, not on his ethnicity, looks, or background right?

NY Post Editorial Cartoon (2/18/09)

NY Post Editorial Cartoon (2/18/09)


Apparently, even cool, calm, and collected Obama, the same Obama who won the millions (and millions) of people’s votes (and minds) fairly through a really tight election, who galvanized many Americans throughout the United States to become more active in their communities, who within a month of being inaugurated has made tremendous strides towards bringing normalcy to this country, can still be easily compared (not so much contrasted) to an angry “uncivilized” primate who wouldn’t stop ripping people’s faces off until two presumably White cops put him in his place.

Some have contended that there’s a double standard associated with this comparison because, while we’re outraged at the aforementioned cartoon, we were fine with the Bush monkey cartoons and the Condoleeza Rice as House Nanny references. While I see what they’re getting at, I also think that highlighting the President of the United States getting shot and killed and simultaneously showing a Black man getting shot “like the monkey he is” raises the stakes to degrees that underrepresented people are all too accustomed to in this country. I’m not excusing the Bush monkey stuff or the Condoleeza stuff because, frankly, I disagree way more with their policies than their person. But this comparison is shallow at best. I just don’t think comparing George W. Bush’s facial expressions to a monkey’s carries the same implications to, say, Barack Obama as a shot-down angry monkey. You can disagree with the policies, but this takes it to a whole ‘nother level.

And again, I’m not the racial polemicist usually. I’m not saying that race relations haven’t come a long way from, say, 100 years ago. Yet, we humans are foolish to believe that people like Obama and Holder symbolize such a revolutionary shift in our national thinking that we no longer, for instance, need affirmative action or have check boxes for race / ethnicity. Until this dynamic changes, then the artist isn’t just representing an isolated case. He is not an isolated case; he is a representative of a significant portion of Americans’ thinking. Until we ALL have those conversations (and not just talking points we regurgitate from whoever we decide to idolize as our racial savior), we won’t get anywhere.

So to those of you who love singing Kumbayah around imaginary campfires, how’s that postracial thing working out for you? The grass over there must be really green.

Jose, who still doesn’t see everyone’s voices fully integrated into American history right?