Archive | June, 2009

Lessons From History

9 Jun

I’m taking a United States history course this summer. Class started yesterday, and today we were assigned a reading from the May 7, 2007 issue of Time Magazine, when Condoleeza Rice was in Bush’s Cabinet and Barack Obama was proving to be a significant candidate for the presidency.

Here’s an excerpt:

The great achievement of the civil rights revolution was the dismantling of what the inheritors of Jamestown had instituted. Today a black woman fills one of the most powerful political offices after the presidency, and a black man holds serious promise of becoming the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. Whatever the persisting problems of black Americans–many of which, like a fragile family life and the lack of inheritance, also originated in slavery–it is now incontestable that they belong to America as America belongs to them. In this, America stands far above all other multiethnic Western nations. Nonetheless, it cannot, and should never, be forgotten that the racial tragedy that began in Jamestown took more than 350 years to overcome.

The message I receive from this article makes me incredibly sad. The passage I quoted suggests that we are, in fact, living in post-racial America. The first sentence, indeed, states that the institutionalized racism that “began in Jamestown*” was fully dismantled by the civil rights movement revolution. And that is utter bullshit. Just because a handful of POCs inhabit places of influence in the United States government in no way indicates that race is no longer a factor of the world we inhabit. To state that it is requires willful ignorance and a heaping helping of privilege that affords those that buy into this utopian America** the ability to put the blinders on and forget atrocities done for the sake of “racial superiority” (in “scare quotes” because that was the best way I could come up with to convey the utter scorn I have for those that, by accident of birth, view their skin tone as superior to that of another human being).

Whatever the persisting problems of black Americans–many of which, like a fragile family life and the lack of inheritance, also originated in slavery–it is now incontestable that they belong to America as America belongs to them.

Is it just me, or does this sentence seem to say, “Gee! Sorry about all that nasty shit we pulled a while back! But hey – now you’re a real American! Because you’ve struggled, we’ll give lip service and pretending we care! Yet at the same time, it appears to brush those struggles under a rug – smother them beneath a muzzle of “Your story has already been told, so shut up about it already! We get it, you’ve been oppressed, and we can’t wait until you stop whinging about it.”

In this, America stands far above all other multiethnic Western nations.

Oi. That ethnocentrism hit me so hard, I’m seeing stars. How in the hell does this person have the gall to use that jingoistic drivel? How was this approved for publishing? What the fucking fuck happened to journalistic integrity, Time? Oh, right. I keep forgetting that the United States*** is the paragon of enlightenment and reason in the world. It’s in all the best news sources!

The racial issues in the United States haven’t been solved. It’s going to take a lot more than a few elected officials to fix that – it requires intellectually honest discussions about race and privilege, and recognizing that reparations cannot be made through time alone. There has to be an effort to change the root of the problem, rather than pretend we live in a post-racial fairy tale where cookies are handed out for every act of minimal decency.

*I feel confident stating that racism was institutionalized long before the establishment of said colony.

**Specifically, the part of America that is governed by the U.S. Would hate to be unclear about that.

***I accidentally typed “Untied States.” The Freudian potential!

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