we resided in a post-racial society then William Faulkner’s words
uttered in the 20th century would not ring true in this century-"The
past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.”
With the election of Barack Obama as this nation’s first African-American president
many of us had hope we could finally close the door on America’s
But the vestiges of that institution lingers not only in the backwaters of America,
but they also linger in the hallow halls of Congress.
When South Carolina Republican House Rep. Joe Wilson’s belted out “You lie!”
during Obama’s televised joint session of Congress address, Wilson
jolted us back to Faulkner’s words.
If Wilson’s act of incivility were merely about Joe the man, and not about a
nation still haunted by and grappling with its shameful and unexamined
legacy of racism, then the fodder and fuss that followed would not
As a mater-of-fact, we could have viewed Joe’s outburst as all about him, an
impassioned man in opposition to Obama’s current political discussions.
After all, I too, find Obama’s healthcare plan and government spending
to be a brow raiser.
when you see an onslaught of racist images of Obama by those in
opposition to him, like placards that read “Afro-Communist,” “Obama
ribs 'n chicken...plus a nice slice of watermelon for the darkie,”
and now the recent poster, flooding the Internet, showing Obama
wearing a feather headdress and a bone through his nose as a witch
doctor, there is unquestionably something deeper going on than merely
opposing his policy.
And When you have a Birther Movement promulgating lies that Obama wasn’t born
in the U.S., Tea Party protests with guns at its rallies, and a
vicious right-wing contingent blocking the President of the United
States from delivering an innocuous back-to-school speech encouraging
America’s children to stay in school, we are seeing strong efforts
at play to delegitimize Obama’s authority.
And of course the specter of race surfaces. You must ask, how much does race
play a key factor and not a backdrop to Obama’s policy decisions?
And, like any unresolved conflict, the warts and boils bubble up, unseeingly,
out of nowhere.
“Racism ... still exists and I think it has bubbled up to the surface because
of a belief among many white people, not just in the south but around
the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this
great country. It’s an abominable circumstance and grieves me and
concerns me very deeply,” former President Jimmy Carter told NBC
Whereas Carter thinks race is indeed the underlying issue Obama thinks otherwise.
“Now there are some who are, setting aside the issue of race, actually I think
are more passionate about the idea of whether government can do
anything right,” he told ABC News. “And I think that that’s probably
the biggest driver of some of the vitriol.”
Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder might perceive Obama’s rejoinder
In February Holder received scathing criticism for his speech on race. He’s
critics said the tone and tenor of the speech was confrontational
“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot,”
Holder said, “in things racial we have always been and continue
to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”
Obama is part of a new generation of African- American male leaders who come
after the 60’s. They would argue that they don’t flee from race
issues, but rather they don’t employ the black civil rights movement
paradigm, often viewed as confrontational, to enter into mainstream
politics. And they are heralded as American’s post-racial leaders
who successfully navigate through this country's lingering legacy
of racism with the intent purpose of disarming whites of their guilt
Peter Boyer’s article in the February 4, 2008 issue of The New Yorker titled
“The Color of Politics: A Mayor of the Post-Racial Generation” wrote
the following explaining this “post-racial” generation of African
Americans that includes Barack Obama, Harold Ford, Cory Booker,
and my governor, Deval Patrick:
“Their deeper kinship resides in their identities as breakthrough figures –
Africa American politicians whose appeal transcends race. Men reared
in the post-Selma era and schooled at elite institutions, developed
a political style of conciliation rather than confrontation, which
complemented their natural gifts and, as it happens, nicely served
This political style these men employ Shelby Steele depicts it best in his recent
book “A BOUND MAN.” Steele states that, in the African American
community, there are two types of people – the “bargainer” and the
What is a “bargainer” or a “challenger?”
According to Shelby Steele, a bargainer strikes a bargain with white America
in which they say I will not rub America’s ugly history of racism
in our face if you will not hold my race against me.
A “challenger,” on the other hand, does the opposite of a “bargainer.” A “challenger”
charges white people with inherent racism and then demands they
prove themselves innocent by supporting black friendly polices like
affirmative action and diversity.
No matter what kind of shape-shifters or mask-wearers we are as African Americans
leaders, even our post-racial leaders are finding out that the nagging
issue of race is an unavoidable issue.
And our attempts to dodge the issue of race in American public discourse is
itself a racial act. And the reason race bubbles up to the surface,
unseeingly out of nowhere, is because it is the conversation America
Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist,
theologian, and public speaker. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe
is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary
at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American
church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate
as a Ford Fellow. Reverend Monroe is the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible
Prayers for Not-So-Everyday Moments. As an African American
feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that is
frequently invisible. Her website is irenemonroe.com. Click here
to contact the Rev. Monroe.
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Bill Fletcher, Jr.
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