A Post-Racial America?

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

                 In a June 13, 2008 Op Ed in The Wall Street Journal, Ward Connerly proclaimed that “Obama is no ‘Post Racial’ Candidate. Connerly’s conclusion is based on the fact that Obama acknowledges the continuing significance of race in an ostensibly ‘post racial’ America. More importantly Obama does not support Connerly’s attempts to outlaw Affirmative Action. Thus, in Connerly’s mind; he is “one of the same tired voices who peddle arguments about institutional racism.” Connerly’s article exposes his own internalized racial inferiority as well as his fidelity to white privilege. He writes, “As millions of whites cast their votes for him in predominantly white states, I held out hope that, perhaps, he was a truly transformative leader.”

Connerly’s subtext is clear. Whites voted for Obama. In exchange for their votes, the expectation is that Obama must deny the continuing significance of race (at least in Connerly’s mind). Although not white, Connerly, it seems, has appointed himself to speak for millions of whites. Hence, he is arguing that since whites have voted for a black candidate, then race no longer matters. Since Obama is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, racism has simply disappeared. Obama is victorious, thus racism has disappeared. 

Mr. Connerly’s argument fails for at least three reasons. First, Obama cannot be a post racial “candidate” since America is still a racialized society. Second, the undeniably historic nomination of Obama does not singularly eliminate racism in one fell swoop. Lastly, employing the post-racial moniker is nothing more than an attempt to sloganeer, rather than address the continuing significance of race.

                Connerly writes, “As many readers will know, I am intimately involved in the effort to enact race-neutral initiatives around the country.” Ever the racial apologist, Connerly is attempting to end Affirmative Action in states by voter referenda because he feels that whites are increasingly the victim of discrimination and must be protected. But, why would there need to be race neutral legislation in a ‘post-racial’ America? “Post” suggests “after,” doesn’t it? So, doesn’t the need for this legislation at all suggest that America is still a society that is marked by race?

Connerly’s logic fails. The question is not whether we live in a “postracial” America, but how race affects us all as Americans. Race is contested space and Connerly’s efforts further contest the contours of that space.  Under Connerly’s logic, Obama would be “postracial” only if he accepts the Connerly definition. Neutrality, according to Connerly, does not require one to resort to a detached, objective analysis of race (if such is even possible); rather, it requires submitting to Connerly’s definition, lest one be marked as “racial.”

                Connerly and others like him are advancing the argument that Obama’s election as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States is unequivocal evidence that racism in America has ended. Under this premise, whites in predominantly white states have voted for Obama and are thus cleansing themselves of centuries-old racial demons and achieving racial salvation. As important as Obama’s ascent is to the vexing question of race, it would be a mistake to assume it is the end of racism in America. Just as it was a mistake to assume that “major combat operations in Iraq had ended” when President Bush donned a flight suit and so declared.

Admittedly, Obama’s rise suggests progress on the issue of race; however, it does not suggest the end of racism in America. For those of us who experience racism in the academy, in retail stores, on trains, on planes and other public places, we cannot simply now respond to those perpetuators of racism with “Hey, we have a black Presidential nominee, didn’t you get the memo?”

                America is the land of spin over substance and ‘post racial’ is the latest slogan to find its way into popular culture and the cultural lexicon. While the term escapes precise definition, it suggests that racism has occurred in the past, and that enlightened whites have eschewed racism as “so yesterday.” It also suggests that blacks who raise the continuing significance of race in a ‘post-racial’ America risk being relegated to the political margins as modern day race-baiters. There is a difference between issuing declarative statements proclaiming America ‘post racial’ and the reality that racism still plays a part in American life. The ‘post racial moniker’ is designed to give comfort to those who have black friends, for whom race “does not matter” and those who believe that “merit” is the great equalizer. As seductive as post-racialism is, it cannot exist in a society where the color of one’s skin still matters. “Post-racial” is another in a series of politically correct terms in which Americans avoid acknowledging the difficult issues, but instead choose to ignore them. 

                Finally, Connerly for all his ruminations about the need for a ‘post-racial’ America is trapped by the racial thinking that he is supposedly attempting to eradicate.  Me thinks the gentleman protests too much.



Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown‘s School of Continuing Studies and the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post Racial America (Aberdeen University Press, 2008).


5 responses to “A Post-Racial America?

  1. endingrediculum

    OK, we get it,….Wards an oreo cookie. Yea, Right. Got it. Institutional Racism hasn`t ended, I`ll agree to that, it`s alive and well and living in Affirmative Action, USA.

  2. bombasticjones

    I can understand where you’re coming from, even if don’t entirely agree. Are some Americans still racist? Yes. Is there institutionalized racism, such as the Jim Crow acts of the post-reconstruction south? Not that I know of. I can only speak for my little corner of the world, namely mid-northwestern Indiana, but I don’t really see racism all that much here. Not everyone is “colorblind” per se, but we have made progress. I do agree that we don’t live in an entirely “post-racial” America, though. While the government has ensured in the most minimal sense that businesses and other organizations cannot discriminate on the basis of race, there are still individuals that are racist. Race still matters, but not as much as it used to, and it is not the obstacle it used to be.

    Maybe my position isn’t as valid as someone who experiences racism firsthand, but there are always at least two sides to every issue. This one’s mine.

  3. moniqueth3intern

    Nice work.

  4. Dear Dr. Metzler:

    As ugly and unfortunate as this sounds, just as you espouse the notion that America is ‘spin over substance’ (and I quite agree with you) the fateful ‘reality over absurdity’ is the fact that America will never be truly free of racism in one way or another.

    As learned individuals we know how people of all colors, ethnicities, and heritage will continue to use various forms of verbiage in an attempt eradicate the ugliness of racism.

    Therefore to the intelligentsia of America, a suggestion is put forth that unless some of us have a mutant gene, I subscribe to the notion that there is but one race on the planet earth, I refer to this race as ‘human.’

    I loved your article, but what was it exactly that you were trying to convey? You were brilliant in your assessment of Connerly’s exposition; however, unless the issue is spin or Affirmative Action I fail to see the point of your artful writing. Cheers!


  5. Pingback: A Post Racial America and Political Incorrectness: Can Hispanic Culture Show Us How to Do it? « Viqtorino's Monger Watch

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