Then I felt like a glass of cold water had been thrown in my face, when I read about the passage of California's bigoted Proposition 8. When I was in college, California was referred to as the bellwether state, so maybe on this issue, it's a good thing that Missouri has taken its place.
Then I heard what former Secretary of Education William Bennett said on TV last night, and it felt like I'd been splashed again. Bennett's assessment of the significance of an Obama win, which you can watch in the clip below, reminded me that with the reality of a black president, a lot of white people are going to continue holding, and enacting, some messed-up attitudes about race.
Right. Meet the new truth, same as the old truth. In terms of racism, Obama's presence in the White House isn't going to improve things overnight, and maybe not all that much at all.
One thing we're going to be hearing white people say more openly is something that many of them have long thought. As Bill Bennett demonstrated on CNN last night, this attitude will basically go like this: "Thank God we have a black president! Now black people can't complain anymore about being held back by racism. Thank you Barack Obama, for proving that race doesn't matter anymore."
Bennett's comment begins about 45 seconds into this clip; he and the other people in it didn't know at this point whether Obama would win (in case the video loads slowly, I've included a transcript below):
Anderson Cooper: I mean, if he does become president, and it still is an if, does anyone know what this means in terms of change of race relations in the United States, or perception of?
Bennett: Well, I'll tell you one thing it means, as a former Secretary of Education: You don't take any excuses anymore from anybody who says, 'The deck is stacked, I can't do anything, there's so much in-built this and that.' There are always problems in a big society. But we have just -- if this turns out to be the case, President Obama -- we have just achieved an incredible milestone. For which the world needs to have more respect for the United States than it sometimes does.
Bennett isn't merely rebuking people here who use racism as an excuse for failure. He's claiming that institutionalized racism is no longer a barrier to achievement. This claim fails to match the realities lived by many non-white people, and those who make it overlook, just for starters, the persistence of job discrimination against black people.
In his obstinate way, Bennett dramatizes something that Tim Wise described this morning, in his post-election reaction piece, as "racism 2.0." Wise describes an up-and-coming form of racism, which "allows whites to still view most folks of color negatively but carve out exceptions for those few who make us feel comfortable and who we see as 'different.'”
Clearly, Bennett feels some amount of admiration and respect for Obama. But that's mostly because he thinks that Obama's achievement can be held up as a counterexample to other black people, most of whom he seems to lump together as pathetic whiners about non-existent institutional racism.
Like a lot of white folks, Bennett is a habitual player of the "race doesn't matter anymore" card (he says other nasty things too--why the hell is he still a respected pundit?). And one effect of Obama's victory on a lot of white folks will be an increased use of this white race card, as people point to Obama's achievement in order to claim that "anyone can do it, so why do any black people still think they have something to complain about?" Who knows, they might even just wear the damn thing out. Come to think of it--would that be a way of getting rid of this particular card?
It's obvious to me, and I'm sure to most of my readers, that race and racism in their many, many forms aren't going anywhere any time soon. Race will continue to matter. A lot. No matter how much white folks want to wish it away.
I'll end with one more way of showing that on the day after Obama won, race does still matter, because it's on a lot of people's minds right now.
I've written before about how I can view the statistics for this blog, including terms entered into search engines that brought readers here.
Just today, people went in search of answers on the Net by typing in the following phrases and questions. It's a small sampling, but I think it's clear that these searchers don't believe that race doesn't matter anymore.
Do you see any trends below, or anything that connects with how you're hearing people talk about race?
How do you think race is going to matter in the Era of Obama?
>> people say that barack obama will make white people slaves
>> what is the white race going to do?
>> are the white people angry?
>> what does post election mean for white americans?
>> Do white people still harbor thoughts that people of color deserve to be treated differently?
>> white people's reaction to the election
>> why white kids mass murder
>> where are some obama racist jokes?
>> 88 and 14 as it relates to white supremecy
>> why would white people vote for obama?
>> what do white people say to black people regarding the election?
>> are white people upset over Obama?
>> are black people finally happy now?
>> white people mad that obama won election
>> white people are a problem
>> people oppose diversity in the workplace
>> overcoming unconscious racial prejudice
>> DO WHITE PEOPLE STAND A CHANCE UNDER OBAMA?
>> do white people know lift every voice and sing?
>> crazy ass shit white people do
>> common beliefs among white people
>> black people blaming white people
>> blacks blame whites for problems
>> apollo theater white supremacists