Wednesday, November 5, 2008

play the "race doesn't matter anymore" card

When I woke up this morning, I was feeling pretty good about the momentous choice America made last night. After breakfast I found some time to enjoy other people's reactions on the Internet.

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 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


  1. The topic of this post is sprinkled throughout the beginning of McCain's concession speech. Here is the web address to the video of it:

    What do you think?

  2. IMO - Race never mattered. Okay, that's overstating it.
    Race hasn't mattered since 1972 (an arbitrary year). It's never been about the outside forces but was ALWAYS about one's inner ability and making good choices.
    Job descimination isn't just racial. How many people in America are denied jobs for not being bilingual? Athletics is the only profession that comes close to being rated solely on one's ability. In every other job, social and cultural issues are just as important.

  3. Sorry to be a buzzkill with that prop 8 post. Thanks to linking to me, though.

    Your post is great. White people sure do play that card a lot.

    Some of Chris Matthews comments last night were so obnoxiously racist and delivered in such an "I am not a racist, but" style. Ugh!

    Those searches you posted are SCARY! But, sadly, not surprising.

    And, uglyblackjohn, what planet are you living on? Denial?

  4. What this election has done has been to prompt a lot of people to talk about race who never would have talked about it before. There is no typical black person or white person and so our understanding of ourselves and each other is complicated. Our views on race are deeply impacted by our age, our race, the attitudes of our families and where we spent our formative years because our experiences are so different. There are a whole lot of white people who have never seen any evidence of racism and therefore, they have a difficult time believing it exists. And because there are so many people who are brought up to believe that the ugly legacy of institutionalized racism is behind us and that this is "the greatest country in the world" and that it's unpatriotic to criticize or point out flaws, they refuse to question or look for the truth. Trying to convince one of these kinds of people that racism is real is like a scientist trying to convince an evangelical Christian that the earth is not 6,000 years old.

    Colorado had a ballot initiative (although I think it was actually removed just before the election) to eliminate affirmative action. I voted against it, but I know people of all races are not in agreement on this one. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has always been vehemently opposed to affirmative action.

    It's true that a black man who went to Columbia and Harvard Law School did manage to get elected President (did I mention he's also half white?), and those who'd cite this as proof that we're beyond race won't ever acknowledge how many events had to fall neatly into place for this to happen. Had the country not been so exhausted and demoralized by 8 of the worst years in our history, had the GOP managed to select more viable candidates and run a cohesive campaign, had the economy not collapsed when it did, things may have turned out differently.

    Sure, it means something, but Bennett's comments show that plenty of people would like to believe it signals the end of something that isn't over.

    The good news is that we'll keep talking about it.

  5. The internet's not the whole world. Neither is Fox News, thank God.

    You could feel the buzz (muted by hangovers & lack of sleep) everywhere today. Turn off your computer & go hang out on the corner or at a library or in one of the parks still littered with campaign flyers & I voted! stickers, you'll feel better.

    The idiot spewing racists will still be there next week, you're right, redcatbiker's right, they're still up there mouthing the words...but the tactic isn't working for them right now, and eventually if it keeps not working they'll give up trying it.

  6. I've always felt that a large portion (not all but a sizable amount) of the white community were merely relenting when milestones like the one that occurred last night, happen in American history. Its like the player that keeps asking the coach to let him/her in the game, but the coach won't because for some stupid reason (race, gender, ethnicity, religion, age, disability) that coach doesn't think that the player has what it takes. Its only when things get really bad, that the coach relents to the player's constant requests to be given a chance. Win the game is over (win or lose) the coach is quick to remind the player, "See, I gave you a shot so you can't complain about not having enough playing time!"

    This is how I see white privilege in America. It doesn't progressively push for change. It merely relents to the tide of change that it can no longer resist. Once it relents however, it is quick to point out that all the ills that occur because of its mere existence are no longer pertinent, because the change had occurred. It happened with the abolishment of slavery, the passing of the Civil rights act of 1964, and clearly now with the election of the first African American to the highest office in the land.

    This is why I chuckle to myself when white people say that we proved today that race doesn't matter (even though it has affected this presidential campaign both implicitly and explicitly for the past two years). I know that we still have a long way to go and I will keep pushing until they "relent"!

  7. word. obama's election did not end racism in the united states. (duh.) if anything it brought to the surface a lot of ugliness that people have been trying to pretend wasn't there for so long. (but did we deal with it?) i pray that most white people will be smart enough not to claim to oppressed based on race now, or that racism is over. i think Get Your War On best sums up my feelings at the link below, "If Obama wins this election we are gonna have to takes shifts holding white guy's hands for the next 8 years."

    also, i like how the anchor says only IF Obama wins will people of color have to stop claiming to be oppressed. as if this election is the only arbiter of the state of race relations in this country.

    i am from the Northeast. i have seen again and again how people invested in being seen as liberal or progressive vote one way and act another. voting for a Black man doesn't make you not racist. your vote is not a definitive testament to your character. you are not off the hook!

    i honestly believe that many of the same white liberals people who voted for Barack Obama would freak the fuck out if their daughter brought home a Black boyfriend or fiancee. you have to practice what you preach.

    i cried tears of joy when Barack Obama was elected last night, but I ask any one who thinks a vote for him is a reflection of their character, how deep does your anti-racism go? voting for Obama was an opportunity to do the right thing, but you can't only do the right thing once every four years.

  8. I hear these kinds of things from some people in the local paper and wonder what planet they are on. Even what area they live in. I am in NW Indiana, near Gary. I live in a town that didn't allow a Black person to live in it until 1970. The county voted for Barack, which is a start to change the racist thinking, but having heard racist things and even the n-word from McCain supporters who are upset, racism is definitely not dead. Blacks in this area still face discrimination. The place I work is in a predominantly Black city, most of the workers are Black, yet no one in management is. Not even the plant supervisors, most of which were promoted from the hourly ranks. It makes me wonder why since many workers, who substitute for supervisors when they are on vacation, are qualified. Race is still an issue where I live but I hope having Obama as President can open a dialogue about it.

  9. I'm passionately disappointed that Prop 8 passed in CA, but I object to it being rolled into the "stuff white people do" category... the demographics on the results were that most ethnic groups voted against prop 8, while black residents of CA voted overwhelmingly FOR it. There was a lot of confusion about the ballot measure (many thinking that they were supporting gay marriage by voting yes), and I'd rather not point fingers at any one group (except obviously the people who intended to deny others rights).

  10. Yes, I could hear that sprinkled racism in McC's concession speech, redcatbiker, thanks for pointing that out!

    Rosa: the post isn't about the idiots who openly spew racism as much as it's about how a lot of white folks, openly racist or not, are going to being playing this race-don't-matter-no-more card more than ever. It doesn't take getting outside or whatever to realize that. Yes, Obama's win is a victory against racism in some ways, but it doesn't mean we can all smile at rainbows because racism has been driven out of town.

    And mosephine, i don't see macon claiming the Prop 8 vote is necessarily a white thing. just because he mentioned his disappointment about it here at the beginning of the post doesn't mean he was calling it a white thing, at least as I read it. Anyway, from what I've heard, opposition to gay marriage is just as much or more of a POC thing, at least in those communities afflicted with high levels of religious intolerance and/or machismo.

  11. isn't is possible that a lot of religious people of color live by "let he who is sinless throw the first stone?" how can you make such a statement, fred?

    anecdotal evidence not backed up by anything substantial is a scary thought.

    personally i think Obama won for a whole combination of reasons, he was a US senator at the right time, he had a huge advantage because of shrub, but the deal closer was Palin, so of course, the same zombies who were around before the elections are still sleeping.

    i am confused about thinking that california would be something anywhere remotely progressive, i met enough of the rude california crowd while in mexico to know that new york,with all it's problems with race, is still light years ahead of the vapid people i saw from californie. my anecdotal evidence is not substantiated either, but at least i am not speaking for someone else, that's not cool.

  12. Of all the questions, this, by far, is the funniest: "do white people know lift every voice and sing?"


    I wonder if Robin Thicke knows that one...

    'till next time...

  13. I would like an answer to the "white people mad that Obama won election" because I don't know how to deal with my boss. He was mad on Wednesday to the point of saying people who voted for Obama were least, that's when he was actually speaking to anyone.

  14. It is laughable to hear over and over "white people do this, white people do that" as if being a member of a racial minority allows you to be prejudice against a racial majority. This way of thinking completely undermines the prejudices BETWEEN minorities that I see everyday. African Americans assuming on Latinos, Asians assuming on other Asians -- it's everywhere and it's a fact of life that NOBODY is free from prejudice. If you're black, you have to overcome the stereotypes yourself. If you're gay, you have to overcomes the stereotypes yourself. Nobody is going to change their minds unless you help them to.

  15. White people play the race card?? Do black people play it as well?? It seems to me that black people are more racist then white people are these days. This country will always remain divided with forums and comments such as these.

  16. @anonymous

    It seems to me that anonymous loves to play the "delusion" card.

  17. Hey Macon, This post slipped under my radar earlier this week, but I'll leave a short comment anyway. I'm glad you wrote about your stats and the googled phrases people type in which lead them to your blog. I'll add common phrases I get are:

    1. Obama, nigga
    2. Obama, antichrist

    As for Bill Bennett, he has a long history of being racist as hell. That link you provided where he said blacks having more abortions would solve the crime problem was one, and I'm glad you found it. Another nasty thing he did occurred while visiting a school. He was the head of Education, and if I recall correctly, told a young black child her mother was stupid for giving her a black name.

    What a jackass. We can assume that he didn't vote for That One with the Black and Muslim name.

    And you're right. It's profoundly disturbing that people like him can say outrageously hostile and cruel things about another group, and still get good paying jobs and gigs in the media and be considered "respected".

  18. Personally for me race was never an issue. I'm not going to lie I am not politically correct and I don't try to be. I just treat people the way I want to be treated. I do Joke with my friends about our differences But My beliefs are that Joke telling is not racist. In fact I believe that Joking around with my friends about our differences is equality. because they do the same thing to me. Yes racism is still an issue for For most white people but I never really had that problem with anyone I knew.

  19. Thanks for your comment, Craig. It makes me want to ask a question--are you white?

  20. It seems fairly obvious that racism is such an ugly and deep seeded part of American culture that the results of one election cannot change that overnight. Despite this, however, I think that one of the most important steps toward equality that this monumental election will give us is the generation of children now who will grow up with a president who represents their racial identity. As a white woman who works in an all black school with 4th and 5th graders, I can guarantee that November 5th was a truly beautiful day for everyone in that school. The kids wrote about how great it was to have an African-American president and while their conception of the long history of racial relations in this country is probably limited because of their age, growing up with a Black president will inevitably empower them with a sense of ability that they may not have had before.

    On the other side of the equation, however, I think that the election of Barack Obama will give certain people more ammunition towards non-White people who feel discriminated against. Just because one African-American man has achieved the highest executive office in the United States does not mean that racism and discrimination will end or even greatly cease in this country and thinking that it will is completely unrealistic.


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