Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obama And A Post-Racial Society- Putting Lipstick On A Pig...

Rodney D. Coates*

First of all, let me be clear, I supported, worked toward, and voted for Barrack Obama in the recent presidential election. Secondly, I am neither bitter or blind, I am neither fatalistic or overly optimistic, and I am neither retrograde or revisionist. I am both observant and mindful of history. With these caveats, I welcomed and celebrated the election of Obama and am deeply appreciative of this historical moment. Consequently, I find it more than strange that no sooner had the dust settled from the electoral screens and even before the actual inauguration - a strange and not so subtle shift can be seen in America's racial terrain. This shift-a new racial narrative - has already assumed tsunamic proportions - seems destined to distort, transform, or obfuscate the racial landscape. In this brief note, I would like to highlight this new racial narrative which I will label as the Post-racial society narrative.

By way of introduction we have had several racial narratives throughout our history -1) biological deficiency, 2) cultural deficiency, 3) civil rights, and 4) post-civil rights/colorblind. Each of these racial narratives have had their attendant sub-narratives -hence under the biological deficiency narrative, we also had sub-narratives which include a) religious heathen, b) white man's burden, and c) eugenics; under cultural deficiency there were a) culture of poverty, b) unassimilable, c) separate but equal; under civil rights we note subtexts of a) integration, b) nationalism, and c) blaming the victim, and lastly under 4) post-civil rights/color blind we note -a) declining significance of race, b) reverse discrimination, and c) human capital or cultural deficits. It should be noted that only with the 3rd racial narrative -civil rights - included significant content from racialized non-elites. In the other three, including the most recent -post-civil rights/colorblind narratives -we note that the central voice reflects the dominant perspective of racialized elites.

I will leave for a later date an elaboration of the above paragraph as my concern in this note is to highlight the post-racial societal narrative. This new narrative, like its predecessors, also has several sub-narratives which can be identified as a) the end of race and racism, b) we have over come, c) nothing has changed) all hell is about to break loose, and e) the struggle continues.

First, let's consider the post-racial societal narrative. This narrative suggests, as indicated above, that a major shift has occurred in America's racial terrain. This shift, attested to by the election of Barrack Obama as the first black America, demonstrates that we have finally come to grips with our racial legacies and have washed the slate clean of its stain. This new racial narrative would argue that any remaining forms or evidence of racism only represents the past, or more specifically reflects a form of racial inertia. Hell, it would be argued, we have lived for so long under the shadow of race and racism, there are bound to be many areas which have not seen the light of this brand new day. Accordingly, it will take some time and patience as the dawn of this new racial paradise sinks in and the relics of the past are forever buried in this new day of progress. Such reasoning would further argue that any calls of racism, or analysis which would support racism are antiquated or even worse blind to these new realities.

It is with interests that the primary supporters of this new narrative are widely divergent in racial orientation, political persuasion, and social location. Thus, some which support this new post-racial societal narrative are those have struggled to bring about this day. They have been hopeful, and indeed honestly supported Barrack Obama because they truly believed that he was the voice of change that America so desperately needed. Another group which supports the post-racial narrative are those who have been burnt out from the struggle, and see Obama's victory as validation of a life of struggle, and acknowledgement that the battle has been won and that the MLK dream has been realized. Alternatively, there are another group who while they support this new post-racial narrative did not support Barrack Obama's election. These, who may be called neo-conservatives, see advantage in Obama's victory as a tool to use in a new push to dismantle what remains of the civil rights agenda.

Running concurrently with subtext a) the end or race and racism, and b) we have over come is another subtext that nothing has changed. This sub-text, while acknowledging the historical significance of the election of Barrack Obama -point out some critical things that must be understood. First of all, Barrack Obama is not the first black, but the first bi-racial president elected in the United States. It is of interests that his bi-racialness is observed in that to do otherwise would be to dismiss the candidates own preference in terms of identity.
Also, it would be to ignore the very real reality that he did not run as a black person, nor did he run a racialized campaign. Obama ran a campaign which attempted to cross the racial divide, not expand it. Obama also did not run on the old civil rights platform, or the democratic platform, nor the reform platform. Obama actually tried to align himself with a populist movement which was broader than the racial, class and gender divide which has historically defined politics in America. Unfortunately, as advocates of this racial narrative sub-text can attest -America has not made this leap into racelessness, gender neutrality, or classlessness. America -is still divided, and gaps of opportunity which reflect the interaction of race, class, and gender yet prevail. Similarly, the outcomes of the able and disabled only complicates, and further expands the gaps which separate us. For those who see these realities, the new racial narrative is that while things have changed, while Barrack Obama is soon to be president -for the majority of Americans nothing has significantly changed.

Fourthly, and simultaneously being expressed is subtext d) all hell is about to break loose is also part of this new post-racial societal narrative. Gun sells have peaked across the country as racial radicals, of all racial groups, are essentially pissed off that Obama has been elected and are in preparation for increased and enhanced conflict. Again, those who support this subtext actually represent racial extremes. It reminds me of the contributions of the KKK to Marcus Garvey and UNITA, it seems that they shared the same vision -total, complete separation of the races. But today, the extremes are those racial radicals who find that the election of Obama does opposite things -most simplistically, white racial radicals see in the election of Obama a tremendous recruitment tool for those whites now have even more evidence that America is no place for a white man. Alternatively, there are some black racial radicals who see in the election just the opposite -a decrease in their ability to use hate, victimization, and racism to whip up black support for racial extremism.

Finally, and running concurrently with the others, is another subtext which, while understanding the historical significance of the Obama election, recognize that now the real work begins, and for them the struggle continues. For this group - recognizing the distorted landscape and blurred visions associated with this strange new racial discourse - there is significant concern that their voices will be muffled by the noise of all the others. And rather than singing in concert, there will be even more discord in our racial discourse. For these the struggle to be heard will be even more challenging as the bases of our racial structures rearticulate. Again, those who understand that the struggle continues, have ample evidence that simply because the police chief is a black man from East LA, or the chief executive officer is an Asian lesbian from the West Side of Chicago, or the drill sergeant is a poor white man from Mississippi - change at the top does not always, or more aptly rarely leads to changes at the bottom. Put simply, putting lipstick on a pig does not make it a lady. But, as I observed as far back as the summer prior to this historical election -we must not confuse the moment with the movement.

Note Rodney D. Coates is a professor of sociology and gerontology at Miami University. He can be reached at
Rodney D. Coates
Professor of Sociology and Gerontology
Miami University
Oxford, Ohio 45056
513 - 529 1590


See Also...

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special: Yes He Did...So Now What??? Defining The Obama Presidency...

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special:O Yes We Did!!! The Barack Obama Tribute...

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special: Barack Obama & The Hip Hop Effect On American Politics:


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