Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Obama Era: A Post-Racial Society?

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Obama Era: A Post-Racial Society?

Article excerpt

Despite the election of President Barack Obama, many longtime scholars whose work intertwines with race disagree that the country has reached a post-racial period.

WITH BARACK OBAMA E|NSCONCED AS THE nation's first Black president, -plenty of voices in the national conversation are trumpeting America as a post-racial society - that race matter much less than it used to, that the boundaries of race have been overcome, that racism is no longer a big problem.

"It's smack down to think America is still all about racism," says Dr. John McWhorter, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow. "Racism is not Black people's main problem anymore. To say that is like saying the earth is flat."

But longtime scholars whose life's work intertwines with race disagree, even while applauding Obama's presidency as a milestone.

Race, they say, still matters. A lot

To these scholars, claims of post-racialism hold mirage rather than merit because far too many significant, statistical disparities remain between Whites and minorities in educational attainment, income and net worth, career advancement and health care outcomes. Post-racialism is a goal not yet reached. Therefore, casting aside the role race plays in these inequities as well as race-conscious remedies such as diversity programs, they warn, doesn't bode well for minorities still struggling.

While the term "post-race" has emerged in national discourse within the past few years, many scholars say the same subtext already lived in catch phrases like "color blind" more than a decade ago. Post-racialism parallels the same ideas mat gained traction alongside other historical markers such as the first Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday in 1986.

"The idea of post-race is old wine in new bottles," says Dr. Troy Duster, a New York University professor of sociology.

McWhorter, for one, gladly takes a drink. "Post-racialism is a good direction to move in because if there's some separation between Blacks and Whites, it's as if some unpleasantness is going on, like one has his foot on the other's neck.

"Are there racists? Yes. But not enough to keep a Black family out of the White House."

Post-racialism has also birthed offshoots in a variety of hues. Richard Ford, Stanford University's E. Osborne professor of law, prefers describing America's current d 5 "racism without

In other words, many inequities are acy of long- of long-ago marginalization. Race might not even be a factor in some injustices, Ford says, because the socalled offender is merely repeating actions originated by someone else.

When Racial Stereotypes Persist

In conversation, many academic skeptics of the post-race construct aren't initially fazed by the fact it's embraced and much discussed in workplaces, living rooms, the news media and the blogosphere. What's different now and going forward, other scholars concede, is that the most vocal and influential pushers of post-racialism have its most daunting poster pinup in Obama.

For the foreseeable future, post-racialism will likely attract more believers than it will lose them. Efforts to dismantle or ban affirmative action, for instance, will likely accelerate. (See sidebar "Renewing the Fight Against Affirmative Action.")

McWhorter predicts doubts over postracialism will taper off if Obama's agenda and impact as a role model help reduce recidivism among Black men exiting prison and prod more Black famers to help raise their children.

He also predicts today's children might adopt post-racial mindsets more easily than adults. "They'll see the Obamas on TV every day. That's a powerful influence."

But Dr. Sandra Graham, a University of California, Los Angeles professor of psychological studies in education, considers the latter prediction "myopic."

"There are so many competing TV images involving Blacks and violence that it will take much more than a figure in the White House for youth to become post-racial," says Graham, who studies peer relations among youth in Los Angeles schools. …

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