A ‘postracial’ society reality check

We can tell ourselves racism no longer exists until we’re blue in the face, but let’s be realistic.

Much discussion of a so-called “postracial” society has infiltrated election coverage as of late. Political commentators and reporters are claiming that some of Sen. Barack Obama’s successes can be attributed to “colorblind” young voters, who, as McClatchy Washington correspondent David Lightman wrote, “(Have) grown up in a society that readily accepts people of color in daily life.”

Often, the term “post racial” society is framed as not necessarily a society void of racism, but one in which race is no longer a determining factor in decision-making. Somehow, this concept seems contradictory from the beginning.

This past weekend, I attended the Ninth Annual White Privilege Conference in Springfield, Mass. Around 1,000 people from all over the United States and parts of Canada came together to work toward, as our program said, “the elimination of unearned privilege for members of any group.” We, too, had discussions of a “postracial” society, but instead, it was referred to as “postoppression,” which goes further to say that we be fully liberated from all oppressions.

President George W. Bush’s former deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, now a political analyst for Fox News, said that Americans are “uncomfortable” with talking about race and would like to move beyond it. Rove is right that there’s a level of discomfort around discussing race issues, at least in the public sphere. However, this is an interesting juxtaposition to what’s really going on in the so-called “backstage” of white people’s realities. If white Americans are as uncomfortable with talking about race as Rove suggests, than why do so many seem to have no problem participating in racist and anti-Semitic performances in the supposed safety of white peer groups and family members?

Dr. Joe Feagin, sociology professor at Texas A & M University, gave a keynote speech at the conference.

In 2003, Feagin asked 626 white college students from 28 schools across the country to record events dealing with race issues they experience over the course of up to eight weeks. What he found is that white racism, once blatant in the public “front stage,” has migrated to the “backstage,” even amongst the apparently colorblind youth.

Of the journals collected, Feagin and his colleague Leslie Houts Picca recorded over 7,500 separate occurrences of blatant racist commentary or actions. These included comments disguised as jokes as well as expressed sympathy toward white power groups.

Of course, it isn’t only those actually speaking these words, but also those who slap them on the back and those who may be uncomfortable with the situation but say nothing. In only a very small number of the interactions Feagin collected did anyone describe a white person in this situation who played the role of active dissenter.

I think it is a fair assumption to make that, as it’s rooted in a 400-year history, this reinvented form of blatant white racism will not suddenly disappear if Obama were to be elected president.

So I ask you, my fellow Americans, are we comfortable with describing our society as “postracial” when this is happening in the daily lives of even our youngest generation?

Please, actively dissent to this blatant racism the mainstream media tells us no longer exists. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

Chelsey Perkins welcomes comments at [email protected]