DIVERSITY WRIT LARGE: A Response to So-Called “Post-Racial” America
March 11, 2009 posted by Delores M. Walters* The disproportionate effects of the seized-up economy on citizens of color whether in housing, employment or educational opportunity soundly refutes the idea that “we can put to rest the myth of racism as a barrier to achievement in this splendid country” as the Wall Street Journal claimed one day after Obama’s election. Others take a more moderate stance: “For all our huge progress, we are not “post-racial,” whatever that means. The world doesn’t change in a day, and the racial frictions that emerged in both the Democratic primary campaign and the general election didn’t end on Nov. 4. As Obama himself said in his great speech on race, liberals couldn’t “purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap” simply by voting for him. Perhaps wealth accumulation is the most convincing indicator of racial disparity in America. As Dalton Conley points out, the net worth of African American families is only one-eighth that of White families which is not due to differences in education, earnings or savings rates, but due to the legacy of racial discrimination. Other groups, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, for example, exhibit wealth accumulation rates that mirror the statistics for Blacks, while Cubans mirror those for Whites.
Similarly, Hurricane Katrina only revealed racial disparities that underlay pre-existing social, housing and health care disparities. "We must come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color, age, and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not," Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean concluded. With respect to the presidential election itself, there are millions of individuals who voted for a Black candidate, but vividly remember segregated schools, lunch counters and recreational facilities. Self-imposed racial segregation still exists in these venues (but for reasons that require a whole different post). Such individuals remember all too well the outrageous poll taxes and literacy tests barring Blacks (and poor Whites) from voting, not to mention racial violence, especially lynching. Obama commemorated the voting achievement of 106 year old Ann Nixon in his election night speech: “I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America: the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t.” Obama won his decisive victory for the presidency because he is Black and despite his blackness. Being in this historic political moment allows the country to acknowledge its racist past as well: To build a democracy, our country relied on racial enslavement. De facto segregation and unequal justice is ongoing in our society, too often with fatal outcomes. One need only recall the police brutality cases involving the sodomizing of Michael Mineo last year, the execution of Oscar Grant at the start of 2009 and the fatal shooting of Sean Bell in 2006. Recent hate crimes by civilians against other civilians have also been very much in the news. For example, the murder of José Sucuzhañay, by attackers who were Black and thought that this Ecuadorean immigrant and his brother were gay. And in another incident in late 2008, a Latino, Marcelo Lucero was deliberated targeted and killed by White and Latino youth. Yet, we now have the opportunity to also unite behind our common humanity (including the cessation of senseless violence). People of all races, both sexes and different sexual orientations, can decide, not that the myth of race is now behind us, but that with Barack Obama we have the best chance to achieve that objective. * With Assistance from Julie Wyler, NCRW intern