I hear talk of this “post racial society;” a move away from race and towards a colorblind cosmo that will magically assure upwards social mobility through merit and diligence despite personal backgrounds, cultural attitudes, and ethnic upbringing.
That’ll never happen.
Racial and ethnic identity is embedded in our culture. Racial practice penetrates our history and is manifested through our current political dynamics, economic systems, and social interactions. Racial injustice is remarkably institutionalized, as are the means by which we fight it. Racial understanding is what brings communities together, explicates cultural identities, and unites groups of people across borders and between boundaries.
The American multiracial story is unique. To disregard this multicultural narrative is severely daft and dauntingly dangerous. Race is a significant factor in our history, and is impossible to deny.
I understand the yearning for a “post racial society.” In the recent past, race was a point of horrific tragedy. Racism was terrifyingly violent and extreme. Race was a lone factor in determining future success; from educational access to professional opportunities, the color of your skin ensured your prestige or perpetual demise. Racism defined friendships and marriages, and was encrypted in religious and political institutions. The racial foundation is what America is built on, and now translates into how we engage with one another.
Take politics, an easily recognizable example. President Nixon employed “The Southern Strategy,” a polemic tactic meant to capture Southern voters fearful and frustrated by the increase of minority rights, privileges, and political participation. Years later, President Clinton played the sax on late night TV to appear friendly to African American voters. In some circles, he’s considered the first Black president.
Even today, President Barack Obama’s campaign was heavily influenced by racial dialogue and uneven ethnic comprehension. Pundits frequently asked if America was ready for a Black president. Conservative opponents brazenly painted him as a socialist Kenyan Arab. His campaign was momentarily derailed by the Jeremiah Wright “scandal.” And since his election, there’s been a substantial rise in militant neo-Nazi groups.
Both Democrats and Republicans are exhausting efforts to attract Latino/a voters; a crucial demographic that will eventually dominate the political landscape, and could potentially transform red strongholds and swing states. Immigration reform is the next great battle in domestic politics, and both parties are deploying an arsenal of political weaponry fueled by ethnic innuendo.
And this is just race and politics. I could mention the prevalence of race in pop culture, (Miley Cyrus anyone?) or in educational regulations. The point is still the same; race permeates all dimensions and deserves attention.
The notion that race is a ubiquitous phantom menace that keeps us in its clutches is a scary thought. We’re a more educated society, and we know that racism is wrong. We do not want to be racist, but the fact that we may have subtle prejudicial attitudes conflicts with our astute moral compass. Add in the demagogues that usurp national racial discussions for their own benefit, and the sea of vitriol keeps stirring. Race is synonymous with negativity. And this is ultimately why people cling to the fantastical dream of a utopian post-racial society.
But it need not be.
Cross-cultural communication can be positive so long as its participants are open-minded and actively listening. Nate Abrams wrote a fantastic article about racial stereotyping in light of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. In it, he takes ownership for his own prejudicial attitudes, and invites others to do the same. He notes that, while we are not taught to be racist or prejudice, our culture is immersed in longstanding prejudicial conduct that we tacitly embrace. His article received tremendous feedback from all cultural groups, as his relatable tone, though direct, was not accusatory.
Sara Luckey offers another shining example of racial discussion with her article about reverse racism and white privilege. She clearly and succinctly defines racism and cleverly places it into a modern social context. And while her article was met with controversy (as most racial pieces do), her ability to accurately explain the complicated facets of racism is noteworthy.
A “post-racial society” will never happen. Race is the buttress of our national identity. Race is thoroughly institutionalized in our conglomerate national system to the point where it is self sustaining. We have embodied race as individuals and as a collective. This need not be a negative thing. If we can take our embodiment as an opportunity to learn, think, grow, and engage, then we’ll recognize that a post racial society is, in fact, an affront to our cultural intelligence.