Are We Living In A Post Racial America



 A public enemy?

 The humiliating arrest of Professor Henry Louie Gates at his home in Cambridge Mass – where he was handcuffed, mugged and fingerprinted like a common criminal – brings us face to face with the reality of persistent racism in American Society. At a time when young Afro-American intellectuals like Toure – the newest darling of the white New York culturati – are proclaiming the onset of a post racial era in America, and racist verbal arsonists such as Pat Buchanan are screaming about the terrible ways that powerful blacks and Hispanics – like Judge Sotomayor – are oppressing poor working class white males, some short sighted observers have concluded that blacks are doing so well in America the NAACP has outlived it’s mandate as an advocate for the empowerment of Afro-Americans and other non-white citizens. 

Alas, even so respected a commentator on American life as Clarence Page, a Pulitzer Prize winning black columnist from the Chicago Tribune, espouses this spurious point of view.  According to Paige the NAACP “has accomplished its goal” because Americans have elected a black President. To wit longtime Civil rights activist Julian Bond replied: “We are not here to promote the advancement of one colored person.”   Poor confused Clarence went on to proclaim elsewhere that there was really no need for the President to address the organization at its hundred anniversary celebration.  Although I have always regarded Mr. Paige as a milquetoast mediocrity, his comments shocked and disappointed me.  He appears to have no sense of history and little real understanding of the present.  Yet he is constantly called upon to explain the aspirations and spiritual strivings of black folks to white Americans.

Even as Mr. Paige spoke black and Hispanic children were being dissed and dismissed from a pool at a white Club in Pennsylvania, where their Day camp had rented time.  This incident transported me back to my childhood in apartheid Florida, when the black kids in St. Augustine were barred from swimming in the public pools.  This resulted in quite a few drowning deaths as black children tried to learn to swim in the ocean or rivers. 

Maybe confused Clarence thinks the dissing of black kids from the inner-city of Philadelphia isn’t something we ought to get too alarmed over because he shares the opinion of suburban whites that such kids are dangerous – just wondering.  I’d bet Paige can’t imagine his kids being treated that way.  Maybe he’s so removed from life in the contemporary black community he’s in the same position as the outstanding essayist and Afro-American studies Professor Gerald Early, who says that he had to convince his daughters that they should have some black kids among their friends. 

The arrest of Professor Gates should cause well-to-do blacks to take another look at the relationship between class and race in contemporary America, and reject the post-race hokum.  When the Gates affair is viewed in the light of the treatment of Sonia Sotomayer by southern Republican Senators, and Pat Buchanan being given generous blocks of time on national television to denounce her nomination to the Supreme Court as “an affirmative action hire,” dismissing her sterling academic record as meaningless, we know that race and gender discrimination is alive and well in the US.   And I wouldn’t be surprised if the cops were also motivated by the constant attacks on the “cultural elite” and hostility to the Ivy League by Republican ideologues.  These attacks could well have intensified the normal “contradiction between town and gown” that exists in all college towns.

 In any case the arrest of Professor Gates should alert us all to the fact that Barack Obama’s presidency does not spell the end of racial discrimination in America.   Indeed, as Dr. S. Alan Counter – Professor of Neuroscience at Harvard and President of the Harvard Foundation – pointed out:”We do not believe that Professor Gates would have been arrested if he was white!”   Professor Counter went on to recall that he had been accosted by white cops walking across Harvard Yard.  And once after a domestic spat with hid Swedish wife he was arrested and handcuffed all night!  Since Professor Counter also grew up under the white supremacist order in segregated Florida, he has similar memories as mine.  Hence, while it may be hard for white guys to understand, Dr. Counter and I understand the situation perfectly.  It’s hard to believe that we are witnessing similar racist attitudes we experienced down south, back in the day, from Northern whites in 2009. 

What all black people should bear in mind is that 56 million white people didn’t vote for Barack Obama, and for some of them his election is a sign of demonic forces at work to destroy America. Others believe that his diplomatic efforts amount to treason, and yet others believe he is turning America into a socialist or communist country.  And still others are comparing his health care proposal – an enlightened Christian effort to provide health care to all who need it – to Nazism.  All of these white folks are pissed off at black people, especially successful black people – whom Rush, Sean Hannity and Pat Buchanan have told them do not deserve their success because they got it only by oppressing white men and taking things that rightly belonged to them. 

The fact that these people have no chance of getting into Harvard, and graduating if they did, is of no consequence in the world of struggling whites with a sense of white male entitlement.   Hence many of these people are out to punish and humiliate successful black people whenever they get the chance, and the explanation given by the Cambridge police Department sounds like BS to me.  It went over like a lead balloon with Mike Barnacle and Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe too, they agree with Dr. Counter: “It would never have happed to a white guy!”

A Great Scientists and Humanitarian

A Great Scientists and Humanitarian

 As I sit and stare at the mug shots of Professor Henry Louis Gates, I am reminded of the last time I saw him.  He was a heroic figure lecturing on Fredrick Douglass’ polemics on the ideology of white supremacy at the Sorbonne in Paris.  I told the audience afterward that I considered him a national treasure in the US.  That such a thing could happen to him – and had he been a man of the physical stature of Dr. Counter he could have gotten shot a couple of dozen times – convinces me we still need the NAACP, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund – which is modeled on the NAACP’s long time legal arm – and every other advocacy group fighting racial and gender discrimination in America.

 The attitude of white Americans regarding this incident, as measured in opinion polls, show that the majority does not believe the Gates affair was racially motivated.  This reflects the general attitude about race relations measured in a new CNN poll released on Tuesday, which shows that while 55% of black Americans believe race relations are seriously troubled, only 17% of whites share that view.  This tells me that we continue to need strong Affirmative Action programs too!   Post race my ass: If this is a post racial society eggs ain’t poultry; grits ain’t groceries, and Mona Lisa was a man!

           Playthell Benjamin

Commentaries on the Times

July 21, 2009

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