Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Post-Racial America? Think Again

They're talking secession again.  The Southern states, that is, along with a handful of other states most of which are in the deep-red swath of the heartland.  I frankly cannot remember a time since the 1960s when the rhetoric about race was this overheated in my part of the country, though, admittedly, much of the rhetoric streams forth sub rosa, under the guise of (self-) righteous complaints about welfare moochers demanding Obamaphones and Obamacare from hard-working righteous white Christians.  

Hidden rhetoric, that is, which dares not speak its name.  The kind of rhetoric I've been seeing at my Facebook page as Republicans and "independents" to whom my page connects swap "jokes" about moochers and takers and folks who always want "stuff" from Santa Claus.  Folks who don't give back.  Who want to run "my" country without having the skill or initiative to do so.  It became so bad on election night for a Facebook friend of mine, a gay white Southern man most of whose friends are other gay white Southern men, that I saw a warning pop up on his page that he intended to start deleting friends who refused to cease and desist with the racist tripe.

And this is to say that race continues to stare us in the face as a core problem of American political and cultural life even after media pundits declared the president's 2008 victory the inauguration of a "post-racial" America.  Power remains firmly in the grip of white males in this country, even as a new America seeks to be born in the coalition of women, gays, Latinos, blacks, white working-class rustbelt voters, and young people the Democratic party forged to win the 2012 elections.

And because the continuing power of racial politics to roil and divide and wreak havoc with our never-yet-realized democratic experiment concerns me--I saw at first hand what the politics of racial fury and resistance can do to people during the Civil Rights movement--I keep reading about these issues.  And thinking about them.  Here are some statements from the last few days that seem to me worth sharing:

Conservatives are creating their own electoral enemies.  The beating heart of modern conservatism is its visceral appeal to the anxieties and fears of white Christians.  This is a different statement than saying the beating heart of modern conservatism is white racism or white supremacy.  It's not, or not principally.  It's simply white identity politics with all the pathos and ugliness that implies.  . . .  
The deeper issue is that for conservative politicians and conservative networks and conservative websites, there is simply too much to be gained by feeding the sense of persecution and siege that many white Chrisitans feel down to their toes.  I'm not sure what is going to shift those incentives, because that insecurity as an emotional fact is real and it isn't going away.  . . . [T]he only way our politics avoids the increasingly ugly spectacle of a revanchist party attempting desperately to strengthen its appeal to a shrinking pool of white voters is that the movement's leaders show some genuine leadership and stop cultivating their base's worst instincts.

The re-election of a black president is the most precious fact of 2012, perhaps even more significant than his original election in 2008. If Obama had lost, a wise history professor pointed out to me, it would have taken many years, probably many decades, before either major party would ever again dare to nominate a person of color for president. Black Americans understood this, probably better than most of us white folks. So did Latinos, Asians and a whole bunch of other “minority” voters. African-Americans might have had quarrels or disappointments with Obama, but they understood their historic stakes in winning a second term for him. 
Obama has instead cleared a path for a very different American future. Generations from now, people of all sorts will be able to look back and say this is where it began, a new drama of self-realization now available to many once-excluded Americans and the new politics that they can generate.

But for those who think the new post-racial America is not just a-borning but has already arrived, Chauncey DeVega offers sober wisdom at Alternet:

I am going to let you in on a secret that Fox News and the Republican party will not share with you. 

White people run America. More specifically, white men are the most powerful group of people in the United States. Yes, people who look just like you remain in charge. White men control every major social, political, economic, and cultural institution in the United States. With few exceptions, white men are the CEOs of every Fortune 500 company. 

White men control both Hollywood and the mass media. There, approximately 95 percent of the most important positions as writers, directors, advertising, producers, show runners, executives, and the like are held by white men.

We clearly have work still to do in the United States.  That work centers on the struggle to protect an exceptionally fragile experiment in democracy that has never yet come anywhere near realization.

And which will never be realized if those who continue to have all the power in their hands continue to try to thwart the will of the majority, to block the expression of the democratic aspirations of those the powerbrokers have historically regarded as other than and less than, and seek to dismantle democracy insofar as it does not work to their advantage as a ruling and controlling elite.

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