Monday, April 20, 2015

The Folly of Transcending Race In A Society of Racial Inequality

The historian David Roediger wrote a book back in 2008 called How Race Survived US History. At the end he discussed the excitement, confusion, and varied reactions elicited by Barack Obama's 2008 candidacy for president. (That seems like a long time ago now, doesn't it?) On the one hand, the possibilities of a post-racial America were everywhere bandied about. On the other hand, the media endlessly reported on and speculated about how this or that racial group responded to Obama. Surveying the scene, Roediger offered this gem of a sentence:
Such careening representations of the Obama campaign reflect an overwhelming desire to transcend race without transcending racial inequality, as well as the impossibility of doing so.
This might fairly be said not only of the Obama campaign, but of the entire ideological project of colorblindness. It promises to put an end to race without any sacrifice or broader change required. But the promise it seems to hold is ultimately illusory. How can we be colorblind when the inequities that reproduce race remain with us? This is too troubling for American society to face, so we get people performing their racial progressivism by voting for a Black man rather than supporting more substantial changes. Barack Obama may be a two-term president, but something as obvious, moral, and practical as reparations is still not to be mentioned in most polite company. As much as we may want to move beyond race, we're quite attached to racial inequality.

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