Friday, July 10, 2009

Racism in the Age of Obama

Yesterday the media exploded with the story of the young Black kids who were turned away from a privileged, white swimming pool in suburban Pennsylvania. Racist incidents have been on the rise in the United States in the past several months since the election of Obama. Despite the dreams and visions of utopia that many people have sought and wished for after the election of President Obama, we must face the truth that the struggle against racism has only intensified. It has not been resolved. Racist entities have sharpened their tools of hate and are more proactive than ever in their attempts to maintain that which they once had, thought they had, and are in danger of loosing. Indeed, within the same time frame as Obama was elected Oscar Grant was assassinated by police in Oakland California. White patriarchal systems of power have galvanized to fight to the death to keep the privilege that they feel is rightfully theirs.

We see this in the public fight over the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the supreme court. Establishment white males have gone out of their way to demonstrate Sotomayor's racial bias against white males in her judgments and rulings. Even the Supreme Court's recent rejection of her ruling in the case of the New Jersey firefighters is an effort on behalf of the white male power structure, namely John Roberts, who I believe is the key figure in this decision, to declare Sotomayor illegitimate and to shore up their position as privileged white men. This fight,coupled with racist statements made on the sly by public officials, the appearance of nooses on campuses around the country, the shooting at the Holocaust Memorial, and the plethora of other racist incidents that have occurred around the U.S. since November 2008, all reflect the extent to which white supremacy has flexed its muscles in an effort to vamp up the fight for its very existence.

Part of the problem is that race is a volatile bubbling liquid that has never been properly defined in the United States and that constantly threatens to spill,contaminating every aspect of American existence. Those who feel threatened by the influx of immigrants of color into the U.S., the advancement of Black and Brown people in the political arena, and the eroding predominance of white privilege in this society are those who have very feeble grasps on white privilege in the first place. The false privilege of being white that was extended to poor and economically disadvantaged people in this country is becoming less and less effective as a pacifier to people who have to fight for their very economic existence. The Latin American rule that "money whitens" is becoming more and more relevant in the United States and it is causing great bitterness and dis-ease among those people who historically enjoyed the social safety net that whiteness provided. This bitterness has been translated into hatred and violence against people of color, minorities, and immigrants.

Whiteness itself is a contentious bone to be picked between many groups who once relatively easily galvanized around this identity to shore up their class and racial privilege. If whiteness were limited to its original definition, the borders around "whiteness" would eliminate all peoples in Southern Europe, from Spain and southern France to Greece as well as the people of Eastern Europe. Take out the people of Ireland and Scotland too. If whiteness were limited to that original "wasp" idea of a "teutonic" heritage, the number of white people in the United States would be drastically reduced. The ramifications of that for those who have depended on this identity for their social, economic, and political power would be drastic and threatening. It becomes clear that the interests of white patriarchal power lie in maintaining the order that once was, pre-Obama.

The manifestations of such efforts can clearly be seen by all who are willing to look. The Bush administration worked perfectly towards the advancement of this agenda. The basic disarmament of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, the firing of U.S. Attorneys (yes, this had a lot to do with the Bush administrations attempts to erode Civil and voting rights protections at the DOJ), the appointment of John Roberts--all of these actions were efforts to concrete the power and privilege of the ruling class (read: white patriarchy) in this country and to shore up their position against the growing power of people of color, women, and other minority groups.

These revelations ought to inspire all of us to be more vigilant in our fight against racism. We should all be more aware and more proactive in countering the conservative and neoliberal forces in this country that would march us right back to the 1950s. The election of O'Bama served to give us hope that one day we would overcome the problems that we face in this country. It was not the end of the struggle. We must all wake up and come to realize that this fight is far from over and that all of us must work diligently in order to end patriarchy and white supremacy in the United States.


Anonymous said...

At current, there is no "fight against racism." Therefore, how can people be diligent toward something that does not exist.

What exists (sadly) is a reaction to racism -- when racist acts occur. However, on a general level people are strikingly stupid relative to understanding racism.

In short, if you do not understand white supremacy -- (i.e., racism) what it is and how it works -- then everything else that you think you understand will only confuse you.

James B.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Excellent job. I was always disturbed by the claims that Obama's success shows that the USA has transcended race -- or that Obama himself transcends race. These claims are problematic on so many levels, as your article demonstrates.

I have written several articles contesting the "post-racial" discourse. During the presidential campaign, very few civil rights scholars and race theorists chose to deconstruct this rhetoric. I suppose they thought this could threaten Obama's candidacy. Thanks for helping fill the void.

Garlin II said...

You're on point, as usual. Every time I've heard someone link the election of Obama to the end, or even a change in, the level of racism in America, I have to pause to keep from hyper-ventilating.

Take a look at this interview given by Obama when he was en route to the NAACP 100th Anniversary Celebration in NY earlier this week. In it, he thankfully acknowledges the myth of post-racialism.

When a reporter asked how he felt about the dichotomy of Sasha and Malia Obama being the First Daughters while Black children in Philadelphia were recently turned away from a private swimming pool, the President said it underscored the fact that his election has not, in fact, ushered the country in a so-called "post-racial" era. "On the other hand," he said, "The biggest barriers that young African-Americans face today have less to do with blatant discrimination and more to do with long-term inequalities."

I also watched Rachel Maddow last night debate Pat Buchanan on her show. I haven't seen such a passionate case for the victimhood of white men in a very long time. To take your point on who non-inclusive whiteness actually is a step further, the fact that whiteness is so, in truth, mixed, is one of the great ironies in the psychology of the white supremacy.

One Love. One II.

Brandon said...

Great Comment Garlin. Thanks for adding to the convo.