With the historic election of America’s first non-white president official, opinion makers far and wide have already tried to put their spin on the historical narrative-in-waiting. Reflecting on make-shift punditry (make-shift because the last thing the pundits seem qualified to talk about is race), one of our readers summed up the narrative making quite well:
“One of the more disturbing things about the ‘celebration’ of Obama’s election by mainstream America is that it’s being used for cynical political purposes. Namely, the Obama election is touted as proof that America is now no longer racist…” LXY
That’s certainly the idea I got when I watched Morning Joe the morning after Obama was voted in as our next president. Leaving alone the words of a hired stooge, Rev. Eugene Rivers who was all over MSNBC and, apparently, any other news outlet available:
“Racism is no longer the primary obstacle to black progress. With the election of a black man whose middle name is Hussein, the rhetoric of white racism is off the table.”
I was amazed when talking-head Joe Scarborough talked about the younger generation of White Americans who supported Obama’s campaign/candidacy. It was the typical and inevitable contrast between the degree of racial contact Joe & Company had when they were growing up and the degree of racial integration and comfort young(er) White (or European) Americans have with African-Americans.
I guess there is some merit to that but it didn’t stop there.
For some reason, Scarborough thought it was worth mentioning how his daughter was part of this new “post-racial” America because she voted for Obama in a mock election for kids. But that wasn’t Scarborough’s only point. Apparently his daughter never gave any consideration to Obama’s skin-color and found it easy, perhaps even natural, to vote for Obama because of her “[black] friend.” I’m assuming Scarborough’s daughter is all of 6 or 7 years old thus qualifying her as an expert. You know, in the “kids don’t see race” kind of way — i.e. an idea that’s been a textbook talking point on race for as long as I’ve lived. (Note: That’s an indictment on Scarborough’s lack of depth, perspective and knowledge on the subject, not his daughter’s.)
I do have to admit to finding insights into White people’s personal experiences involving race and observations about racial attitudes in their homes/communities as more helpful to me now, perhaps, than ever before. Harry Smith’s confession on the CBS ‘Early Show’ was both helpful and refreshing:
“I don’t know how else to say this — I grew up in a household that was not racially neutral. I grew up in a household where racial epithets were used commonly and with vigor. To see the difference in this country, in a country that I grew up in, so many people have said this is not something they thought they would ever see in their lifetime, and I wept tears of joy last night.”
I think it finally help me understand White folks’ learning curve. Unfortunately, during that same show, Smith interviewed Maya Angelou and seemed to want to fix her in time, in the past, right along with the racial epithets that were so common in his childhood home. Smith couldn’t resist asking Angelou to recite a portion of one of her most famous poems, “Still I Rise.”
Not that there’s anything wrong or inappropriate about the poem.
The thing that struck me, which was reinforced when Barbara Walters (ABC’s “The View”) awkwardly segued off of the discussion of Obama’s victory to a clip of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, was how unchanged White folks’ views on race seemed to be. Each one of the media people I’ve mentioned here not only seemed to be stuck (i.e. unevolved or without any new or fresh reflections or observations) with the kind of racial views they probably had decades ago but via Angelou and King… they also placed African-Americans in a time-warp , boxing them into narrow, bit-size (read: comforting; non-threatening or indicting) thoughts on race.
I just have a hard time seeing that as “change” or as something capable of contributing to it. And don’t get me started on the narrative that tries to credit the country as a whole for progress African-Americans insisted on never being denied despite a history of denials, obstacles, double-standards if not outright violent resistive-aggression.