Dr. Christopher J. Metzler
It was not that long ago that we were ushering in the “post-racial” era in American racial discourse. According to scholar John McWhorter, “So, in answer to the question, ‘Is America past racism against black people,’ I say the answer is yes.” In intellectual and ideological lockstep, Dinesh D’Souza proclaimed, “If Obama’s election means anything, it means that we are now living in post-racist America. That’s why even those of us who didn’t vote for Obama have good reason to celebrate.” If we are to believe the inane gab fest, a single event has changed the racial calculus of America, and we should simply move on. I own several bridges in all of the major cities in the United States and will be happy to sell them to all who want to buy at a cheap price.
Dean Grose, the former mayor of Los Alamitos, Calif. demonstrates that America is not at all “post-racial.” Realizing that this will be the first Easter egg hunt at the White House under the Obama administration, Grose decided to send a photo by e-mail to “ a small group of friends” (yes America, he does have black friends) depicting the White House lawn festooned with watermelons and the caption, “No Easter egg hunt this year.” Asked to explain himself, Grose said that he did not mean to offend anyone and that he was unaware of the racial stereotype that black people like watermelons. The statement begs the question as to why he chose watermelons knowing that a black family resides in the White House and not “knowing about the racial stereotype.”
My guess is that the post-racial apologists will dismiss this as an isolated incident in a “post-racial” America. I suppose that neither Grose nor the post racialists will acknowledge that the issue is not simply the stereotype that “black people like watermelon.” It is, instead that cartoonists used the images of blacks on so-called “coon cards” often stealing watermelons, fighting over them and turning into watermelons. In some cases, the “coon cards” depicted violence against black children. These “coon cards” were very popular with white Americans and indelibly etched the image of blacks as lazy, violent thieves into the minds of many. But, I digress. According to “post-racial” logic, the single event of Obama’s election has changed all of this by ushering in a “post-racial” America in which these images no longer have the currency that they once did and reviving racists’ imagery is acceptable so long as we don’t mean to offend anyone, send it to a “small group of friends,” “apologize” if anyone was offended (not for doing something offensive) and resign. As Grose wrote when he resigned, “This was clearly my mistake, which I accept was in poor taste and I regret that it has created this cloud.” I guess that in a “post-racial America” one does not have to take responsibility for racial vitriol; just the cloud (probably “dark cloud”, it causes).
The New York Post had been covering the story of a chimp that was kept as a pet, attacked the owner’s friend and had to be shot to death. The Post subsequently published a cartoon (ostensibly referencing the chimp story) in which two police officers shot and killed the chimp. Talking amongst themselves, the officers quipped, “They will have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” Perhaps I simply did not get the connection between the chimp story and the stimulus bill. Perhaps I did not understand why there was no reference to Congress or to Wall Street in the cartoon. Perhaps I did not understand the reference to the cognitive association between blacks and non-human apes and the scientific theory of racism. Or perhaps, I simply don’t have an appreciation for trite racial humor.
In true post-racial parlance, The Post wrote that it did not mean to offend anyone and that this cartoon had nothing to do with race. It was meant to castigate Wall Street executives and Congress, not to intimate that the President is a chimp. The problem with this, of course, is that the symbol of Wall Street is either the bull or the bear, not the chimp.
In true “post-racial” protocol, Post publisher Rupert Murdoch “apologized” if one was “insulted or offended.”
In addition to the Post, racial apologist-in-chief Ron Christie said that “as a proud black man,” he did not see himself as a chimp and that the cartoon was the proverbial tempest in the teapot. He urged us to take the cartoonist at his word that he had no racial intent. Realizing the hollowness of those arguments, Christie reminded us that Obama did not write the stimulus bill but that it was Pelosi and Reed who did. Ron Christie lives in the fictitious “post-racial America” where the single event of Obama’s election means that the images of black men as apes with violent tendencies have been completely erased. Thus, the Post was not calling Obama the chimp who wrote the stimulus bill that will “destroy America as we know it”, and thus worthy of assassination. According to Christie, in a “post-racial America,” people should be taken to task for racial vitriol only where they intend to be racists.
The history and durability of racial stereotypes and subtexts should be disregarded, and we should all simply get over race. If these concepts sound familiar, they were advanced by Harriett Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Speaking at a Black History Month event at the Justice Department, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, a nation of cowards.” The same post-racial apologists who tried to change the topic by making the Post story about Al Sharpton pounced. Declared Abigail Thernstrom, “I don’t know what nation the attorney general is living in, but it’s not the one I know. Eric Holder’s speech to Justice Department staff on February 18 was scandalously uninformed, as well as arrogant and incoherent. It should be an embarrassment to the president.” Bringing up the “post racial” rear was Ron Christie who said of the comment that it was wrong and insulting to the American people (since he speaks for all of the American people).
I now understand the rules of a “post-racial America.” First, racism is only racism when it is intentional. Second, the single event of President Obama’s election means that Americans are brave for having elected a black man. Third, we should be race-blind, not race-conscious. Finally, Michael Steele’s election as chairman of the Republican Party means that race does not matter to Republicans.
Mr. Steele, of course, ran into problems with these rules when, on D.L. Hughley Breaks the News, he declared himself the leader of the Republican Party and described Rush Limbaugh as an “entertainer” who can be “ugly” and “incendiary.” Of course, Steele forgot to check with Limbaugh (the real leader of the party) to validate Steel’s legitimacy. After Steele’s appearance on the show, he was excoriated by Limbaugh, who said, “It’s time, Mr. Steele, for you to go behind the scenes and start doing the work that you were elected to do instead of trying to be some talking head media star, which you’re having a tough time pulling off.” Conceding that he is not the leader of the Republican Party (even though he was elected to that post), a chastened and chagrined Steele apologized to Rush, “I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren’t what I was thinking,” Steele said. “It was one of those things where I thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people … want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he’s not.” Ah, the beauty of a “post-racial America” where cowards are free to change the face of the party but only to the extent that the Massa allows them to do so.
Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of “The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial America” and Associate Dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.