BlueBlack – Red-Bone – Yallah : Colorism and the Black Community” >> March 22, 2014 >>> LIVE 10 pm ET

BlueBlack – Red-Bone – Yallah : Colorism and the Black Community”

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham
March 22, 2014 LIVE 10 pm ET

03-22-14 Colorism

LISTEN LIVE HERE

“If you’re black, stay back; if you’re brown, stick around; if you’re yellow, you’re mellow; if you’re white, you’re all right.”

In sum, colorism refers to discrimination based on skin color. Colorism disadvantages dark-skinned people, while privileging those with lighter skin. Research has linked colorism to smaller incomes, lower marriage rates, longer prison terms and fewer job prospects for darker-skinned people. What’s more, colorism has existed for centuries both in and outside of black America. That makes it a persistent form of discrimination that should be fought with the same urgency that racism is.

Starts LIVE in One Hour . . . Join us, with updates on Marissa Alexander’s persecution and my favorite Colored Governor, Bobby Jindahl’s “Greatest Country in the world” fantasy.

 

BROADCASTING BOLD BRAVE BLACK

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham

“Speaking Truth to Power and Ourselves”

email: OCGinfo@ourcommonground.com

LISTEN LIVE and Join the OPEN Chat: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/OCG
Call In – Listen Line: 347-838-9852

Community Forum:
http://www.ourcommonground-talk.ning.com/

Twitter: @JaniceOCG #TalkthatMatters

Web: http://www.ourcommonground.com/

OCG Blog: http://www.ourcommongroundtalk.wordpress.com/

Pinterest : http://www.pinterest.com/ocgmedia/boards/

Visit our Tumblr Page: http://ourcommonground.tumblr.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OCGTALKRADIO

“Speaking Truth to Power and Our selves”

email: OCGinfo@ourcommonground.com

LISTEN LIVE and Join the OPEN Chat: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/OCG
Call In – Listen Line: 347-838-9852

POSTS

Why I Wouldn’t See 12 Years a Slave With a White Person

Why I Wouldn’t See 12 Years a Slave With a White Person

“I did not want to have to entertain any of the likely responses from someone who could not see themselves in the skin of the enslaved men and women on the screen.”
NOV 27 2013
Fox Searchlight

I’m not a racist. But I do have a race problem. I finally owned up to it as I was anticipating seeing 12 Years a Slave. In the weeks leading up to its opening in my state of North Carolina, I tried to think of whom among my friends I could see this film with. I have a number of racially and ethnically diverse friends and acquaintances who would love to see it, and yet, I knew I could only see this movie alone or with another dark-skinned person.

Though I was born in North America, I was raised in four other countries on three different continents. I speak English and French. I understand my Nigerian Igbo language. My family has married across ethnicities and cultures—I have in-laws of Arabic, Italian, and Indian descent. I always knew I was Nigerian-American, living between cultures and nuanced identities. But I never knew I was just black until I started spending my adult years living in America. Believe me, now I know.

Related Story

This is hard to admit. I will hurt the feelings of people I love. But isn’t confession the first step to being reconciled? I have good, healthy friendships with a range of people, but I could not think of one white person where I live with whom I would feel emotionally safe enough to see this particular movie about slavery. I did not want to have to entertain any of the likely responses from anyone who could not see themselves in the skin of the enslaved men and women on the screen. I had no desire to dissect the film politically and theologically, engage in well-meaning social commentary, marvel at the history conveyed through the movie, or grieve over what was done to black people.

I did not want the burden of the social translations that black people so often have to do automatically on so many internal levels while engaging in discourse with whites in this country. There are things we learn to do almost subconsciously in order to keep some whites comfortable enough around our blackness. Things like gauging their actual level of interest or understanding of black culture in order to know how far to take a particular conversation before things get awkward. Things like letting them know you hear them trying to say they do in fact see black people. Things like anticipating their questions and responses when they see you with a new hairstyle or come across some element of black culture in your life. Things like using your voice intonation, your word usage, and your bodily gestures to signify that you can hang with them without it being “obvious” that you are a black person in their white world.

Very often, black people work to make white people at ease by layering away any unease we ourselves may feel. It is hard work to translate yourself daily to someone else who most likely lives life without ever being fully aware of how their very existence has been the basis for determining what is “normal” in America and much of the world. And yet this painful and ongoing work of translation is second nature to those of us who have always had to figure out ways to be seen and understood in a world where the white experience is assumed to be the default.

I wanted to sit in the pain and horror and soul-breaking sadness of a movie like 12 Years A Slave with another person like me—someone who is reminded every single day that we are black in America. It doesn’t matter our descent—first-generation Nigerian-American like me, or someone with family here since the Atlantic trade. Our personal narratives do not matter when we walk into stores that cater to consumers of high socioeconomic status (Barney’s). Our accomplishments do not matter when we’re randomly accosted by police (Henry Louis Gates). Our leadership (Obama), our strengths, our beauty, our innocence (Trayvon), our fears, our needs (Renisha McBride), our humanity all take second seat to our skin, skin that in all its beautiful, nuanced shades is simply seen as “black.”

I did go see 12 Years a Slave, in the middle of a weekday afternoon, alone. I sat in the sparsely occupied theater with seven other people: four white men, two white women, and one black man. And for the duration of the ads and the movie previews I tried to brace myself for the experience. I kept whispering to myself, “It’s a movie. It doesn’t happen anymore. It’s a movie. It doesn’t happen anymore.” I could not remember the last time I felt so physically tense and uncomfortable at the beginning of a film. Scene after scene, my body did not relax once. And when it was over, I was so grateful I had come on my own. Not because of any increased animosity toward white people, or any steaming anger toward a system of injustice; mainly because in the moments after the film I simply could not speak. I needed space to process the images I had seen, the dark silences I had heard, and the slow leaking of my own raw emotion I did not even know I had been holding on to for the previous two and a half hours. I have always been awed by how humans can experience both a deep numbness and extreme pain at the same time.

Seeing the movie was hard. But the truth is I had developed my own race problem before the film was even released. And when I look back I see that it has largely come from the slow and painfully growing suspicion that I’m primarily a check-mark in the lives of so many well-meaning, educated white people. Black educated friend: check. African conversation partner: check. Black woman of safe but uncommitted romantic exploration: check. Black articulate friend I can introduce to my family: check. Black internationally reared cultural elite I can relate to without leaving my comfort zone: check. Black emotionally safe friend with whom I can make “black jokes” in the name of familiarity: check. The list could go on.

I am saddened at the undeniable reality of my problem. I mourn my seeming inability to fully trust those pink-skinned children of God.

The most unsettling thing about my race problem is that I’m not sorry for it, though. Confession may be the first step, but I have failed to reach the second one: repentance. I know I cannot stay in this place of distrust, of increasing disdain and anger. But I am not ready to dismiss these feelings, either. I am not ready to work toward the unity I believe we are all called to move toward. Because these feelings, difficult and tragic as they are, seem to be teaching me some valuable lessons.

Now more than ever I will engage in cross-racial relationships with an unapologetic and hopefully compassionate commitment to calling out the ways that people fail to see the complexity and reality of being black in America.

Now more than ever I will write and speak in ways that seek to reclaim what is “normal” from whiteness.

Now more than ever, I will struggle in public dialogue with the ongoing repercussions of being a Christian living in a country that since its beginning has woven together religion and race to sanctify human bondage and to help maintain injustice.

Now more than ever I will pour my creative energy into supporting and building safe spaces in which all shades of brown and mahogany boys and girls can live the fullness of life as boys and girls created in the image of God.

I have given myself permission to dwell in this malaise. I do trust that eventually it will be redeemed. I hope my white friends can bear with me however long it takes. Even if it’s something as crazy as a dozen years.

Race: The story we are not telling l LEONARD PITTS

Posted on Monday, 07.29.13

Race: The story we are not telling 

BY LEONARD PITTS

LPITTS@MIAMIHERALD.COM

Eight years ago, a storm came barreling through the Gulf of Mexico and smashed the Gulf Coast of the United States. Hurricane Katrina leveled the city of Waveland. It buckled roads in the city of Biloxi, it ripped the city of Bogalusa. And it absolutely smashed the city of New Orleans.

Eight years later, the images from that time feel as if they happened in someone else’s nightmare. But they were real. The bodies floating in the canals were real. The dead woman in the wheelchair covered by a sheet was real. The people trapped in the heat and stench of the Super Dome were real. The people sweltering in their attics as the floodwaters rose were real. The people making camp on the highways and bridges were real. The people looting, the people wading through chest-high waters in search of bread and diapers, were real.

Real, too, was the sense of surprise, of abject shock, with which the nation and their news media realized an astonishing thing. There are poor people in America. Indeed, it turns out there are people in America so desperately poor that they lack the means even to run to higher ground in the face of a killer storm. They don’t have cars. They don’t have credit cards. They don’t have the things that the rest of us are able to take for granted.

As an Illinois senator named Barack Obama put it, “I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren’t just abandoned during the hurricane. They were abandoned long ago – to murder and mayhem in the streets, to substandard schools, to dilapidated housing, to inadequate health care, to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.”

For a brief moment, the astonishing news that there is poverty in America seemed to galvanize the news media. We wondered how in the heck we could have missed this. Newsweek responded with a cover story: The Other America. The public editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution chastised the paper for dedicating a reporter to coverage of the zoo and the aquarium, but none to cover welfare and public housing. A reader wrote the New York Times to express disappointment in that paper’s failure to bring attention to poverty. “As a close reader of The Times and of poverty trends,”’ he said, “I was surprised to learn of the poverty conditions that prevailed in New Orleans. Why didn’t the economic-social-racial conditions in New Orleans get some attention in the paper?”

’’The Times,” he added, “let us down.’’

The Times, or at least its public editor, agreed, writing: “Poverty so pervasive that it hampered evacuation would seem to have been worthy of The Times’ attention before it emerged as a pivotal challenge two weeks ago.” The paper’s coverage, he added, “falls far short of what its readers have a right to expect of a national newspaper.”

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there arose a consensus in American journalism that we had done a terrible job of covering poverty. I am here to tell you that we have done an equally abysmal job of covering race.

Many of us, I suspect, will resist that characterization. They will point to the attention given the furor over Paula Deen, the Henry Louis Gates affair and the subsequent “beer summit,” the headlines out of Jena, Louisiana, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the opening of the Martin Luther King monument on the Washington Mall, the sliming of Shirley Sherrod. And, yes, they will point to the wall-towall coverage given the shooting of Trayvon Martin – especially this week, as Martin’s assailant was acquitted and the nation grappled with the aftermath.

But that is not covering race. That is covering the tragedies, dramas and sideshows that periodically arise from race. We are always there when the circus comes to town. And even then, it turns out our attention is surprisingly fickle. Last year, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism posted an analysis which found that, with the notable exception of the Trayvon Martin case, news media tend to drop stories with racial implications with surprising quickness. According to Pew, for instance, during the week of March 17th 2008, the story of Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory comments consumed 17 percent of the news hole nationally. The following week, it dropped to 3 percent. The week of July 19th 2010, Shirley Sherrod represented 14 percent of the news hole, the following week, she was two. Stories related to race, according to Pew, tend to have little staying power.

The reason we tend to drop race like a hot potato, I think, is that, contrary to what some of my readers contend, we in the news media draw our members from the ranks of the human race. And human beings, particularly in this country with its fraught history of slavery, violence, suppression, exclusion and murder, often find race a very difficult subject to talk about.

But again, it’s not even race that we tend to cover but, rather, the aftermath of race – the incidents that race creates the circus of race. So what do I mean, then, by race?

If you read the first of the two columns I wrote in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict, you may remember that I made reference to a social experiment I once saw on television. What Would You Do? is one of those hidden camera shows in which they set up a situation and watch to see how average people respond. In the segment I wrote about, a young white actor sets to work trying to steal a chained up bicycle in a park. He uses a hacksaw, a bolt cutter and even an electric saw. The cameras watch for an hour. A hundred people pass by. A few mildly question what he’s doing, but most don’t even bother. Out of that 100 people, only one couple calls authorities. ABC also tried the setup with an attractive blonde woman. Five white guys stopped – and helped her steal the bike.

It was when they did the experiment with a black kid that things got interesting. And you know where this is going. Within the first minutes, there’s a crowd of people around him. They challenge him.

They lecture him. They whip out cell phone cameras and take video of him for use in court. They call the police. And afterward, when they are asked if the color of the young man stealing the bike had any bearing on their actions, they all swear it did not.

As one man put it, “Not at all. He could’ve been any color, it wouldn’t have mattered to me.”

So when you ask yourself what I mean by “race,” I mean that. That is race.

And can we pause and just deal with that for a moment? Ask yourself what it means that, after an experiment that demonstrates with stark clarity the dimensions of racial bias, that man can assure us all race had nothing to do with his decision to harass the black kid and that he absolutely would have given the same treatment to the white one. We know from watching the video that he very likely would not.

The point is not that that man is lying. Far from it. The point is that he is telling the truth as he understands it. How can he be guilty of racial discrimination? He doesn’t burn crosses on people’s lawns. He doesn’t post Whites Only signs in his place of business. Black people are welcome at his house, as Archie Bunker once put it, through the front door as well as the back. So there is no way he looked at that black kid in the park and committed racial profiling. This is his truth. Race had nothing to do with it.

It is a statement of self-delusion that finds its echo all throughout the Trayvon Martin case. Race had nothing to do with my shooting him, said George Zimmerman. Race had nothing to do with our letting Zimmerman go, said the police department. Race had nothing to do with our acquittal said the jury.

And yes, I am well aware that Trayvon’s parents also said the same thing. Race had nothing to do with our son’s death.

Before I explain what the difference is, let me tell you a story. Three years ago, an 18-year-old black kid named Tyell Morton, sneaked into his high school in Rushville, Ind., wearing a hooded sweatshirt. He left a mysterious package in the girl’s restroom. The package turned out to be a blow-up doll. It was the last day of school and this was a senior prank.

For this prank, Tyell, an A and B student with no criminal record and dreams of college, was arrested and jailed on a $30,000 bond and initially charged with terroristic mischief. Prosecutors eventually came to their senses and dropped the felony charges but before they did, Tyell was facing eight years behind bars.

When this happened, a woman a letter to the editor of the Rushville Republican newspaper. “I want and need someone to PLEASE tell me,” she said, “this case is not going to become a huge deal because of RACE!” She capitalized “race” and followed it with an exclamation point, adding, “I feel very strongly that skin color had nothing to do with these charges …”

Tyell’s father told me in an interview that he didn’t want it to be about race either. He explained that Rushville is a small, predominantly white town, that most of his son’s friends are white and that most of those who contributed to raise the $3000 needed to bail Tyell out were also white. So he did not, he told me repeatedly, want race to “cloud” matters. “My son’s life,” he said, “is more important than some racial issue that people can’t seem to get over. That’s what I want to focus on, man.”

But I pushed him on it. I asked him point blank if he thought his son would be in jeopardy if he were not black – and poor. And this guy who didn’t want to “cloud” matters snorted bitterly and said, “”That question has been answered way before this happened to my son. Do I need to even answer that? Come on.”

My point is that Tyell’s father, like Trayvon’s parents, understood intuitively that if you start making racial accusations, no matter how obvious and well-founded they are, some white people will retreat behind self-justifying statements of blamelessness, others behind statements of angry denial, and the justice you seek will just get that much further away. So I am not surprised Trayvon’s parents said what they did. But I would wager a month’s salary that if you could somehow induce that man or woman to speak their heart of hearts and ask if them if they believe their son would be dead if their son had been white, they would say something like what Tyell’s father said. “Do I need to even answer that? Come on.”

This, friends and colleagues, is the story we are not telling. Because this influence that color still has over our perceptions half a century after the civil rights movement – and our denial of that influence – has implications far beyond the killing of Trayvon Martin, tragic as that was. No, it bears directly upon the decisions we make, the policies we embrace, in the fields of criminal justice, education, the environment, health care, the economy, politics, foreign policy, terrorism, you name it. It bears upon how we all perceive the world. So where are our enterprise stories documenting these effects? Why are we as an industry – with a few noteworthy exceptions – silent on these issues?

As I said a moment ago, race is not an easy topic. If you are white, race can be difficult because you have to grapple with the sense of feeling guilty or that someone is trying to make you feel guilty for an ugly past. I remember watching at a documentary on the murder of Emmett Till with a young white kid who told me afterward that it made him want to pull his skin off. This is a child born three and a half decades after Emmett Till died and yet, watching those white people on screen in the middle 1950s saying all those vile, hateful, stupid things, made him, personally, feel bad. Feel indicted. We have to recognize that and be sensitive to that. We have to evolve some way of talking about race that allows white people of good intention to feel as if they can be part of the solution and not just a new iteration of the problem.

It is easier for black folk to discuss race, but even with us, there can be some hesitation. It you are black, race can be a difficult subject because like sediment at the bottom of the pond, it stirs up so many feelings of anger, shame and boiling frustration. It can be easier just to not deal with it, easier just to leave it alone. We have to find some way of pushing to the other side of anger, of using it not as a fuel for bitterness, but as a fuel for determined, focused action.

Make no mistake, those are hard things to do. And instead of helping the nation find ways to do them, our industry has instead entered, I think, into a kind of conspiracy of silence where race is concerned. In this, we are not unlike many of the readers we serve.

I had a reader tell me once that I must stop writing about race because the subject is “impolite.”

I get told all the time that if I didn’t talk about race – me, personally – race would not be a problem in this country.I am frequently instructed that I create racism – and become a racist myself – by writing about race.

I think what these people mean to say is that they wish I would not violate the conspiracy of silence. By mutual, unspoken consent, we have decided that we will speak of these things only when doing so becomes unavoidable, only when we are pushed to by drama, tragedy or sideshow, only when the circus comes to town. The problem is, that is precisely when emotions are apt to be most high and voices most shrill. That is precisely when people are most likely to retreat into their bunkers of fixed opinion and yell across at each other and no one ever hears a thing that is said. No understanding is ever broached, no reconciliation even remotely possible.

By acceding to this conspiracy of silence, we as journalists – and I would also indict the school system in this – have helped create a generation of socio-historical idiots where race is concerned. You may think that description is a little harsh. I would ask you to spend some quality time talking to some of my many earnest readers who insist with a straight face that conservatives fought for civil rights in the 1960s and died to stop slavery in the 1860s. You may just change your mind.

This socio-historical idiocy flourishes in a nation where what happened yesterday is no longer recalled and what happens today, still, right now, is considered taboo. It should tell you something that according to a 2010 study by Public Religion Research Institute, 44 percent of all Americans believe bigotry against whites is a significant problem even though, by every objective standard – education, health, wealth, life expectancy – it is not. It should tell you something when the re-election of the nation’s first African-American president is greeted by calls for secession and revolution. It should tell you something when the number of hate groups in this country spikes by nearly 70 percent since 2000 amid claims that white America is threatened by genocide.

It should tell you that the silence we have embraced is poisonous.

So it is not enough to cover the Trayvon Martin trial. We should have already been writing about the forces that made that trial a sensation, meaning this abiding perception that black equals criminal. We should have been asking local police chiefs and district attorneys how it is that African Americans commit, say, 15 percent of drug crimes in a given jurisdiction, yet account for upwards of 70 percent of those doing time for drug crime.

It is not enough to cover the “beer summit” that ensued when a black professor was arrested on his own front porch. We should have been writing more about the disparities in educational achievement that make an African American man on a college campus such a rarity in the first place.

It is not enough to write about the sliming of Shirley Sherrod. We should have been writing about what seems to some of us an organized attempt by elements on the political right to stir racial resentment, to give those resentments moral and intellectual cover, and to use them as a lever of political power.

It is not enough to write about the opening of the Martin Luther King monument on the Washington Mall. We should have been writing about the erosion of progress toward the Dream he famously articulated there.

In other words, we need to draw the through line, so that when President Obama is called “uppity” or people pretend there is some controversy over where he was born, there is no question where that is coming from. We need to provide context so that when a district attorney seeks to try six black children for attempted murder after a schoolyard fight, people are already equipped to understand the rage that boils in some of us who have been down this road too many times before.

This matters. Virtually every domestic issue that you cover – crime, poverty, the economy, the environment, education – is impacted by race. So helping our audiences understand what race means, what it is and how it still works, could not be more vital.

This is true all over the country. It is especially true – and especially critical – here in Florida. For the last few minutes, I have talked about race in the way we have traditionally talked about it in this country, as a bipolar phenomenon: blacks on one side, whites on the other. But as anyone who can read a demographic chart knows, the bipolar is fast becoming the tripolar as Latinos and other Hispanic Americans make ever greater inroads in terms of numbers, cultural influence and political power.

I am aware, yes, that Hispanic is not a race, but an ethnicity. I am also aware that both those words, when you break them all the way down, are pretty scientifically meaningless, except to the degree they quantify our tendency to want to slap labels on those who are “not like us.” So let us just agree to agree that the nation is changing, that in the future, “race” will be even more complicated than it has previously been and that in Florida, the future is now.

Almost one in four of the 19 million people who call this state home identify as Hispanic or Latino. In Texas and my home state of California, the ratio is even higher: nearly 40 percent. South Central Los Angeles, where I grew up, was once regarded as the largest African-American community west of the Mississippi River. That’s changed. I attended John C. Fremont High, which had maybe two Mexican kids when I graduated almost 40 years ago. We were the Pathfinders, and our mascot was a scout with a big Afro and an Afro pick sticking out of his back pocket. The school is now predominantly Mexican American. The mascots now are a man and woman with pale skin and dark features wearing coonskin caps, their fists raised as they burst through the page.

The times, as Bob Dylan once sagely noted, they are a’changin’.

The question is, is our industry changing to meet them – not just technologically, but culturally. Are we representing diverse cultures in our pages and on our websites? Are we speaking honestly about the changes, challenges and opportunities those cultures represent in terms of politics, education, criminal justice, health and labor. Do we understand that the conversation we have refused to have does not get easier from here on out because some of the participants hablan Espanol. To the contrary, it becomes more complex – and more critical.

I will tell you the truth: there are days when I come uncomfortably close to despairing of my country’s ability to ever come to terms with itself, heal itself, on the subject of race. My assistant Judi, who handles my email and is thus on the front lines of the sociohistorical idiocy I mentioned, periodically blows her top at some of the ignorant things people say. She sent me an email once that said, “I don’t understand why you don’t just hate white people.”

Judi’s white. She’s about my age. And I suspect she feels what I feel: that sense of betrayal unique to those of us who came of age in the post civil rights era thinking that all this stuff was fixed, all this stuff was over, all this stuff was past, that it was finished for us by Martin Luther King and the generation of marchers who followed him toward the Promised Land. I went to college in the ‘70s, roomed with a white guy, discovered Simon and Garfunkel, watched All In The Family on television, thankful all that idiocy was now distant enough and safe enough to laugh at.

The ensuing 40 years – the bulk of my life – have been a bitter process of watching the backlash take form and discovering just how naïve and mistaken I was.

One of the things that gives me hope, that helps to keep despair at bay, is embodied in this room, in the profession that you and I are both lucky enough to pursue. As I said, much has changed over that 40 years. One thing has not. I still believe, cutbacks be damned, furloughs be damned, economic downturn be damned, that we do honorable and vital work and that if you seek the truth and then tell it without fear or favor, you commit an act of unalloyed good.

The civil rights movement would not have been won without Martin Luther King’s incandescent leadership. It would not have been won without that army of marchers and boycotters and nonviolent protesters. But it also would not have been won without the pens and typewriters and cameras of reporters who turned the nation’s eyes to the injustices flourishing in places like Little Rock, Selma, Montgomery, Nashville, Greensboro and St. Augustine. It is said that newspaper images of the unrest in Birmingham so embarrassed John F. Kennedy and undermined the nation’s ability to condemn Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev on human rights issues that Kennedy’s brother Robert sent an envoy to Alabama to mediate the dispute.

This is what our words and pictures can do. In the civil rights years, they shattered stereotypes, they shredded preconceptions and they destroyed self-deluding fantasies. Sometimes, I don’t think we really appreciate just how dramatic a change that was. We are talking about wrongs that had endured for generations, yet they were rendered inert in just 13 years, in part because our professional forebears saw a story that appalled them and told the world about it.

That is the power we wield.

So what appalls us now? Government spying, government lying, rapacious banks and terror threats are likely somewhere on your list, and with good cause. But I would ask that you also spare a little bit of moral indignation for the fact that, not 50 miles from here, a black child, walking through a gated community wearing a hooded sweatshirt and khaki skinny jeans carrying nothing more dangerous than iced tea and candy can somehow be inflated into a thug and a threat. Or for the fact that you could stalk and kill that child and be acquitted of any wrongdoing in the same state where Marissa Alexander is doing 20 years for shooting a wall. Or for the fact that some of us can look at this and assure themselves, assure us all, that race has nothing to do with it.

I ask that you see this as a story and a priority and a moral imperative. I ask that we use our great power to batter down selfdelusion and socio-historical idiocy. I ask that you reconsider the price we’ve paid for our conspiracy of silence – and that you do it before the next circus comes to town.

‘Post-racial’? No: with a black president, all issues are racialized l Professor Anthea Butler

‘Post-racial’? No: with a black president, all issues are racialized

Anthea Butler

12:05 pm on 01/21/2013
File Photo: In this handout from the The White House, U.S. President Barack Obama bends over so the son of a White House staff member can pat his head during a visit to the Oval Office May 8, 2009 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images, File)File Photo: In this handout from the The White House, U.S. President Barack Obama bends over so the son of a White House staff member can pat his head during a visit to the Oval Office May 8, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images, File)

The inauguration of President Obama on Martin Luther King Jr. day is a powerful symbol of the progress in race relations in America. Symbols, however, do not have universal meaning. Since the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the nation has had to contend with two competing narratives: one, the election of the nation’s first African-American president meant America was now post-racial. The second narrative was that the election of Barack Obama meant that “America” was in peril, and that a Socialist Kenyan became president again through nefarious means. Which narrative will prevail in President Obama’s second term?  It depends on how race is confronted in the president’s second term, not only by the president, but by concerned Americans.

Since the presidential election of 2008, race relations in this country have deteriorated with the rumors that the president is a crypto Muslim, a Kenyan or any of the myriad of names (Obozo, Obummer) that have been given to him by conservative talk show pundits and detractors. Consistent calls for the president’s birth certificate during his first term, and other racial epithets and slurs from many sources including Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, and Rush Limbaugh seeped into portions of the country’s psyche, angering many people of color and galvanizing disenfranchised whites into polarized political camps. These racialized slurs against the president, fueled by conservative radio, television, and print media, have turned into a cottage industry of T-shirts, buttons and posters sold online and at Tea Party and other political rallies. Those who have promoted this racism are also quick to say that they are not “racists,” further compounding the issue.

All of this racial animus tumbled into the 2012 election campaign, leaving the Romney/Ryan ticket to win 59% of white voters in the 2012 election. That was 20 points more than the Obama/Biden ticket.  Despite this, the president won by a large margin, and with a broad coalition of support from all ethnic groups. With the president’s win, the racial animus has continued, threatening to engulf his second term as well.

There is no better time than the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Jr. birthday for the president to address the legacy of race and racism in the United States.  Most Americans remember one important line from the “I have a Dream Speech”:  “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The quote of King is lifted out of a critical speech highlighting the problems of the civil rights movement. Now it is used to validate America’s so-called post-racial society. The reality is, the last four years have been anything but “post racial.”

At the beginning of President Obama’s second term, it is important that the boil of racism festering during the last four years be lanced. How? By the president’s acknowledging the tensions in this country that are being currently racialized: gun control, health care, and immigration.  While the president’s race speech back in 2008 was a necessity on the campaign trail, perhaps the inauguration speech or his State of the Union address could acknowledge these tensions, explaining how they they subvert or distort our attempts to deal with the problems themselves.

How we as a nation work through our racial issues is important as we draw closer to the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. America’s history in race relations has always been fraught, and it is time to revisit the legacy of the civil rights movement once more. The issues of race are not simply black and white, but now encompass a changing demographic in a nation of immigrants. If the president ignores the clamor, the poison will continue to seep, destroying “our more perfect union.” Now is the time to address the festering survival of racism, before divisions in our nation grow any deeper. We will become “post racial” not byceasing to talk about race, but by talking more: pulling the ugliness out of the codes and subtexts where it lurks, and confronting it directly.

Anthea Butler is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Straight, no chaser

Anthea Butler is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Graduate Chair of Religious Studies. She holds a Ph.D from Vanderibilt University in Religion, a Masters in Religion from Vanderbilt, and a Masters in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. A historian of American and African American Religion, Professor Butler’s research and writing spans Religion and Politics, Religion and Gender, African American Religion, Sexuality, and Religion and Popular culture.

Professor Butler’s forthcoming book The Gospel According to Sarah on The New Press, explores the exploring the role of religion in Sarah Palin’s political action, and Palin’s influence on the Republican Party. Her first book, Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making A Sanctified World on The University of North Carolina Press is the first full-length academic book focused on The Women’s Department of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). The book is an engaging look at African American women’s lives and civic engagement, highlighting how the of African American women’s social uplift in the church is rooted not only in respectability, but in strict religious beliefs.

A regular guest on the Melissa Harris Perry Show on MSNBC and a sought after media commentator, Professor Butler also provides commentary on contemporary politics, religion and social issues at Religion Dispatches, and her own blog, “You Might Think So” She also served as a consultant to PBS series God in America, and the American Experience on Aimee Semple McPherson.

Professor Butler’s future research projects include a book on African American Women education and missions work in the 19th and 20th century, and the sexual abuse cases in the American Catholic Church.

 

Books

cogic

The Church of God in Christ (COGIC), an African American Pentecostal denomination founded in 1896, has become the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States today. In this first major study of the church, Anthea Butler examines the religious and social lives of the women in the COGIC Women’s Department […]

Read More >>

palinBook

The Gospel According to Sarah is a fascinating new look at a little-understood but crucial side of Sarah Palin: her Pentecostal roots. Anthea Butler’s analysis trains the keen eye of a noted religion scholar on religious and political currents that have been widely caricatured but, until now, poorly understood.

[…]

Read More >>