Another “Post-Race Bomb”

By Maya Suzuki Daniels

Let me begin by saying that I hate the word post-race. I hate everything the idea implies and everything that the idea assumes about what American society “wants” and “needs.” A few months ago, one of my classmates brought up the term, “post-racial,” in class. I didn’t even wait to raise my hand before I half-shouted, “I’ve never heard anyone who wasn’t white use that term.” I surprised even myself with my vehemence. My tone was accusatory; I was furious. My professor kindly forgave my outburst and synthesized, “So those who use the term are those who can afford to,” and I nodded. I will not forget that moment anytime soon. I believe that race will always exist. We will never move “beyond race” –as if race were just some hurdle to reaching enlightenment. Race is absolutely crucial to understanding history and is an integral part of communal culture and individual identity. But I don’t believe that race should ever be used to include or exclude anyone from participating in the discourse regarding race and class difference in this country. Yesterday, my uncle, an Economics professor in San Francisco, created a post on Facebook about a middle-aged white woman he saw begging outside of a local Chinese supermarket. He asked the question, “Where is the white privilege in that?” A commenter responded by stating that if she were non-white, she would most likely have a harder time begging for money, and would be more likely to be hassled by police. I don’t disagree with his comment, but the exchange was deeply disturbing. Have we come to measure privilege by the amount of change in your cup and the moments you spend not being harassed by police? In Jim Crow-era America, poor whites and poor blacks were legally barred from occupying the same spaces. The purpose of these laws was to perpetuate difference on the basis of race, and prevent poor Americans from finding common ground. Several months ago an acquaintance of mine posted an article on race and the Occupy Oakland movement. The writers of the article were concerned about the racial makeup of the movement and felt that communities of blacks and Latinos were underrepresented. While I completely understand the need to point out a lack of diversity, I can’t help but feel that these observers were missing the point of the Occupy Movement. Wasn’t the idea to not speak for these communities, but to let them speak (or not speak) for themselves? Wasn’t the idea to all be in this together, struggling against the 1% of America’s most wealthy? Weren’t we all the 99%? How can we acknowledge race without allowing it to create even deeper divides? While we sympathize with others by finding common ground, I am concerned by how often people find that ground by differentiating themselves from everybody else. Instead of being forced into a socially-constructed dichotomy, we have created our own dichotomy. We either accept race as a daily part of our lives, or we deny race to become color-blind. In my life, I have been taught both to identify others by their race and taught that race doesn’t matter. Now I feel tremendously conflicted. Do we accept race and both the superficial and cultural differences between myself and others? Or do we deny race, and thus place ourselves into a category of misguided altruists? While we’re figuring out how to perceive difference, we’re not figuring how to save our country. We’re forgetting to stand together to keep Americans in their homes. We’re forgetting about our relatives who have been laid off, and our relatives working multiple jobs. We’re forgetting about those living without health insurance. We’re arguing over state-level standardized testing and forgetting to educate our students. We’re forgetting that 87% of Macalester freshman receive financial aid, meaning that only 13% of us can actually afford the price attached to our education. In short, we forget our common struggle to find equality and fair treatment in this country. My uncle wants to know what happened to white privilege (he, by the way, is of Japanese and Filipino descent) and I say we have to cut race out of the equation. Not because it doesn’t matter. But because we are so distracted by finding out how and why white people and black people can’t relate to one another that we forget why we’re not supposed to relate to one another in the first place. Our race warfare distracts us from class warfare. While we’re squabbling over the crumbs, someone has run away with the cake. The same legal processes that created the Jim Crow laws also created the Stand Your Ground law, and the same powers have created an education system which teaches us that we must be part of this racial structure and hierarchy. We must choose to be either white or black (or brown or red or yellow) and thus we must choose our sympathies. We must stay within the borders of our communities, both physically and intellectually. Local rapper Brother Ali, who has joined the national discussion involving Trayvon Martin, stated in a recent Citypages article, “I’m getting a push back that’s saying, ‘How dare you,’” simply for speaking out on the issue as a white man. His experience provides further evidence that this society, as a whole, either refuses to discuss race or uses race as an excuse to push inequality under the rug. Too often, we think that privilege and pale skin excuses us from the conversation. Here at Macalester, we are only too eager to say that, “Race doesn’t matter,” because we are a school that is 65% white (this does not take into account international students). At Mac, we can afford to see one another “beyond race.” We scoff at terms such as “white guilt,” and, “the white man’s burden,” seeing these ideas as antiquated or beyond our consideration. We link skin tones with privilege without questioning why. To me, post-race means a refusal to talk about race. And a refusal to talk about race means a refusal to talk about class. And a refusal to talk about class means a refusal to see the 99% and say, “That’s me.” We refuse to discuss our struggles within the larger framework of American society because we’re afraid that we’re too damn different to understand one another. Talking to people outside of our own community/identity would mean that we are stepping outside of our borders. We’re recognizing difference but refusing to let that difference silence us. Real communication would mean real power, and if there’s one thing in short supply among the lower echelons of American society, it is the power to speak for ourselves and create real change. So don’t raise your hand. Just start talking. refresh –>