Racism, Post-Racialism, and Election 2012


In a CNN.com op-ed, Donna Brazile reminds us that race is still a factor in our country. A recent AP poll actually shows a rise in both anti-Black and anti-Latino attitudes. And indeed, the very same people who promote the idea of the United States as a post-racial society remain eager to exploit racial resentment for their own gain. 

Brazile urges us to beware of snobbishly deceptive "dog-whistle" politics. With a little bit of active listening, you'll recognize "dog-whistling" as an underhanded compliment. Take former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu's recent comment about Gen. Colin Powell's support of a certain African American U.S. president.


"You have to wonder whether that's an endorsement based on issues or that he's got a slightly different reason for supporting President Obama...I think that when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him."

This crafty mash-up of words, to some, might sound innocuous, polite, even. But, the hidden signals  — "You have to wonder..." or "somebody of your own race" — are merely the stubborn tars of racism, covered in the weightless feathers of empty accolade with, "I applaud Colin."

If you noticed the scum dripping from that statement, CONGRATS! You heard the dog whistle! Language, however, is but one of the ways racism manifests itself in our supposedly "post-racial" society.

Brazile looks to rapidly shifting U.S. demographics as one dimension of racial bias. She cites UFE's 2012 State of the Dream report (yay for us!), which explains that by 2030, the majority of those under 18 will be people of color. By 2042, non-Whites will comprise the majority of the U.S. population. Mix in the fact that 80% of retirees are White and own a significantly greater portion of the country's wealth than younger, minority communities, and you'll see what's essentially a racially-charged class war.

The more disturbing effects of modern-day racism are the social and economic deterioration. People of color are earning and building wealth reserves at alarmingly lower rates than their white counterparts. Predatory banking practices, cuts to public services, and voter disenfranchisement efforts are ravaging communities of color and further muffling their political voices. And, concentrated poverty turns poor communities into zones of social toxicity that are difficult to escape, especially for young people who know only that hopeless reality.

We can't expect to meaningfully address race and class inequities until we build a more cohesive national community. The sooner we accept not just our history of racial division but also the current racial divide, the sooner we can start working together to provide shared opportunity to all people.

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