The Myth of a Post-racial Society

Since Barack Obama was elected president, corporate media have declared that the color line is no longer relevant. Not so fast! said three activists of color speaking at a Black History Month forum in Harlem. They resoundingly agreed that the decades-long struggle for civil rights is not suddenly over and that racism is still rampant in the United States.

A diverse, overflow crowd attended the February 20 event sponsored by the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) and Radical Women (RW) on “The Myth of a Post-Racial Society.”

Critique of the Obama administration

The crowd cheered when panelist Kenyon Farrow exclaimed, “Just because Obama, a Black man, ascended to be President, it doesn’t mean all the centuries of slavery and Jim Crow are null and void!” Farrow, a queer Black activist, writer, and Executive Director of Queers for Economic Justice, questioned Obama’s failure to make structural changes. He described the “impact of the prison-industrial complex on Blacks: 2.4 million people are in prison and approximately half of those are people of African descent.”

Farrow blasted Obama’s selection of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Duncan ended community control of schools in Chicago and callously claimed that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing to happen to the education system in New Orleans.” Why? Because it opened the door to private charter schools!

“Blacks have also been hardest hit by the economic crisis,” said Farrow. “They were only offered sub-prime loans, even with credit scores that qualified them for standard loans, leading to the largest loss of wealth in 150 years for the Black community. And the unemployment rate for Black folks in the cities is 20 to 30 percent. Yet we’ve seen no major speeches or policy changes by Obama addressing these harrowing realities!”

A wide racial divide

Panelist Norma Abdulah is a retired school teacher and longtime Harlem civil rights leader. “Commentators said that the willingness to elect one Black man means that now all human beings could be treated as they deserved,” she began. But, she continued, “I’m here tonight to tell you I don’t believe it!”

Shouts of affirmation greeted Abdulah’s evidence that “we are not a race-neutral society”: the death of Amadou Diallo and many other Black and Latino men and women at the hands of the New York police; the decades-long incarcerations of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, and others for murders they did not commit; the conviction of the New Jersey 4 (young Black lesbians jailed for the “crime” of self-defense against racist, sexist and homophobic violence); and, finally, the more than 13 million U.S. children, mostly Brown and Black, who are born into poverty.

Abdulah explained, “Our society has not wiped out the wide and vicious racial divide. Being economically deprived, politically disenfranchised and socially disrespected are very much a product of race. Racism is an integral, inseparable part of capitalism. Exploitation, and the super-profits made by paying less to people of color and women, is absolutely vital to the survival and entrenched power of the corporations.

“Being ‘color blind’ is wrong because blinding ourselves to the reality of racism and remaining neutral on the necessity of fighting against it will never bring an end to racism.” Instead, she said, while “ridding ourselves of racism will not be easy or automatic, racism is not inevitable — it came into being with capitalism and will perish with socialism.”

A member of Radical Women, Abdulah explained that RW and FSP recognize that no one is immune to society’s influences and this is why the organizations have a Comrades of Color Caucus that provides leadership on people of color issues and fights racism and its impact internally as well as externally.

Fighting on all fronts

The third panelist, Emily Woo Yamasaki, a leader of the Comrades of Color Caucus, drew applause when she stated, “This society is not post-racial, any more than it is post-sexist or post-homophobic!”

Using Obama’s election to give the illusion that racism has ended, Yamasaki feels, is a carefully crafted tactic to quash the fight against racism and against the capitalist system itself. “The powers-that-be want us to believe that people of color just need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and live the bourgeois dream.” This dangerous credo puts all the attention on individual efforts and success instead of structural change for the whole community.

Yamasaki was deeply influenced by Audre Lorde, Pat Parker, Barbara Smith and other Black feminists in the Combahee River Collective. Their 1977 statement of purpose, she said, included the theory that “those who are multiply oppressed” — by race, gender, sexuality, and class — would of necessity destroy all systems of oppression. They advocated socialist revolution that is feminist and anti-racist.”

“Who knows how much closer we might be to socialism today had the most militant, anti-capitalist Black leaders — women and men — not been killed, jailed or otherwise derailed,” said Yamasaki. She reminded the gathering that Martin Luther King was assassinated at the very moment when he was linking the fight for racial equality with opposition to the Vietnam War and support for striking Memphis sanitation workers. She described the direction King and others were heading — from demanding justice and full integration to labor solidarity and anti-capitalism — as Revolutionary Integration, a theory conceived in the 1960s by founders of the FSP. Revolutionary Integration holds that Black leadership is key to working-class revolution in the United States.

Freedom Now!

Farrow closed with the declaration that this is a “dangerous moment for the struggle against racism where the myth of a post-racial society is being used to squelch concerns about racial and economic justice.” Abdulah proposed that “to get to a society with freedom and justice, we need to shine a bright light on racism, and struggle in multi-issue solidarity.”

Yamasaki concluded, “We need to build on the legacy of the civil rights movement — incorporate feminism and an active leadership of Black women and queers with a bold, uncompromising anti-capitalist approach to bring the ongoing struggle for ‘Freedom Now!’ to its logical revolutionary conclusion.”

All branches of the FSP held Black History Month events that featured local activists speaking on this same theme. In each, acknowledging the destructive reality of racism was paired with the determination, in the words of the powerful traditional anthem by James Weldon Johnson, to “march on ’til victory is won.”

  • First appeared in Freedom Socialist newspaper, Vol. 31, No. 3, June-September 2010.
  • Lois Danks writes for Freedom Socialist newspaper. She has spent 42 years as a technology worker in education, healthcare, prison, mental health and tribal settings. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Lois.

    15 comments on this article so far ...

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    1. Rehmat said on June 26th, 2010 at 8:18am #

      Don’t forget that when Cardinal Roger Mahony, head of the LA Roman Catholic Archdiocese claimed that the anti-immigration law “encourages people to turn on each other in Nazi and Soviet-style repression”. Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the LA Wiesenthal Center responded that comparison of the Arizona immigration law with Nazi era “diminishes (importance of) Holocaust“.

    2. bozh said on June 26th, 2010 at 10:20am #

      I dare say that the mother of all racisms is discrimination or to say it in english, people looking dwn on people.
      And to be more precise: richer people looking dwn on people who possesed less than the discriminators.
      And once it had been institutionalized and enacted into law, only much evil flowed from just that one criminal act.

      But when and how have some people became the greatest criminals among so many people?
      Who cld have -all having only cudgels- easily beat them to a pulp and thus impart a lesson to any wld-be criminal!
      The change from butiful equality to severe inequality probably took millennia; it crept like an unnoticed snail. But the snail arrived!

      THEY are now armed with tanks, jets, warships, and we with bats; so forget ab armed revolt.
      But arming people with knowledge wld work. tnx

    3. Deadbeat said on June 26th, 2010 at 4:10pm #

      , “This society is not post-racial, any more than it is post-sexist or post-homophobic!”

      Yeah but the society has been “post-working class” aka “middle class” since 1946.

    4. bozh said on June 27th, 2010 at 7:09am #

      Thet little word “IS” packs a lot of deception! Why? Because it provokes people, and kids especially, into evaluating so: things are; things were always so; things will always be so!
      When s’mthing IS, it means that that s’mthing does not change. So democracy, socialism, capitalism IS.
      And socialism IS bad; it always had been bad and always will be bad-evil. In fact, the above-three labels stand for trns of events and interethnic and interpersonal relationships.
      However, the usage of labels and saying that they ARE, does not evoke to the mind their characteristics and the traits are not posited for comparison purposes, but only labels.
      Thus capitalism is compared to socialism: socialism IS bad; so IS capitalism!
      But when one compares the two labels [and only labels; each with trns of meanings] one is comparing an apple with an orange.
      So, bad orange=bad apple. But every child wld say: Ok, but let see the apple!
      And this is the reason why asocialists never ever compare a much inegalitarian society to a much egalitarian one.
      Because, one can see both kinds with a naked eye and, thus cannot ever be fooled ab one being good and the other bad.

      By using the word BE, people think thus: we were always ruled; we will alway be ruled. People are bad; they were always bad; always will be bad; so, must be ruled.
      Wars ARE god’s will; so we wld always have wars. Etcetc. It’s no wonder banksters are running to the banks laughing.

      Btw, IS and ARE in above paragraph are auxilliary and do not refer to the essence of bankers or gangsters, but only to what they do.
      If i wld say that a banker IS a crook, that wld refer to his character or essence or very being. tnx

    5. franco_american1962 said on June 29th, 2010 at 8:06am #

      Purely pessimistic, cynical, threadworn Marxist claptrap. The very voices that clammor for “greater” equality and justice, wish neither. This is about the perpetuation of a rhetoric of hate and despair, disguising itself as a battle of good over evil. The only conceivable ends, for these ivory tower types, is not the “piecemeal engineering” of a free and open society’s institutions that Karl Popper suggested in “The open society and its enemies”. These militant throwbacks of the radicalized 1960s find it easy to castigate democracy and the free-market, but I very much doubt anyone really has a workable alternative. One might see what Utopian social engineering for what it is: fetishistic and dangerous!

    6. franco_american1962 said on June 29th, 2010 at 8:30am #

      Revolutionary Integration holds that Black leadership is key to working-class revolution in the United States. Revolutionary integration? What? At the end of the barrel of a gun, perhaps? This is not the kind of social reform that I have in mind when I think of open and free society, with a free-market. When the last of economic self-determination (this article, afterall, does concern itself with “distributive justice” ) has all but vanished, I dare say that the State will then fill the vacuum, and every town will have its appointed commissar?

    7. bozh said on June 29th, 2010 at 9:06am #

      Violence wld beget violence. When one earns 10 or 100 times more than another, this is violence. And some people eventually will commit violence against people who perp such violence.
      Expecting americans to accept such hurts forever, appears not a realistic expectation.
      Sooner or later there will be also domestic ‘terrorism’ against domestic terror on ‘lowlife’.
      Dads wld not forever accept that his child cannot get dental-, health-care, adequate nutrition and schooling while another child gets all that. tnx

    8. franco_american1962 said on June 29th, 2010 at 10:51am #

      What, then, is your vision of a more fair and equitable distribution? Moreover, how do you propose to see such a restructuring? I very much disagree with hard work, and playing the game successfully, as proof of degenerate morals, as you seem to be insinuating. Might I suggest you ween yourself off of your pharmaceuticals paid for by your SSDI?

    9. Don Hawkins said on June 29th, 2010 at 11:02am #

      Franco listen very closely do you hear it yet? Very closely do you hear it that is the laughter of the Gods.

    10. franco_american1962 said on June 29th, 2010 at 11:27am #

      I don’t hear anything. However, what I read is half-baked, semi-literate musings, with no clearly articulated position. As a regular “contributor” on a wide variety of topics, I have yet to make sense of his “schizotypal” rants. Hear that? That is me laughing.

    11. bozh said on June 29th, 2010 at 11:54am #

      It is up to future generations [if enlightened] to work out that problem of disparity-equity in earnings.
      But for starters, every child shld have healthcare and other cares i mentioned.
      Or share equally of WHAT THERE IS; which is key to peace, selfvaluing, drug avoidance, nonviolence, at least to me.
      Try it and one might like it. And if one doesn’t, one can always go back to previous state of existence.
      Why-who-what is stopping learning, innovation, enlightenment?
      I have not used the word “degenerate” for anyone. There is no single insinuation in my post that u answered.

      “Violence begetting violence” is a conclusion, but arrived at via inductive reasoning; i.e., from particular to general. however i can’t always enumerate the isnstances of violence perped ny ‘nobles’ against peasants and their retaliation.

      In a germanic tongue, “bringing in all sheep in the sty and call it having the herd of sheep wld explain what induction means.
      Unfortunately, this knowledge is kept away from many because they only speak english and pols, clergy, eduactors do not!
      Just try the word inductive reasoning on my wife? I know i don’t dare!

      US retaliated against british rule because americans felt violated by them. Partizani retaliated agaisnt germans and italians. Indigenes of americas became violent after having been violated.

      I have here stated facts. However, if u have evaluated resistance to noble rule in US and elsewhwere as wrong or criminal. u’d be violated by anyone saying anything contary to that.
      Which u did by stating that i am insinuating that u are a degenerate. Actually i have explicitly said many times that we are ruled by greatest criminal minds.
      But u’r not a member of ruling class, are u? tnx

    12. bozh said on June 29th, 2010 at 12:01pm #

      I just read ur post in which u call me “schizotypal”. It si true. I am often a basket case.
      U, on the other hand, is quite lucid and alwasy correct an dyet i wld never ever read read anything u write. U? Land robber? In palestine, iraq, afpak, apache land?

    13. Don Hawkins said on June 29th, 2010 at 12:23pm #

      As a regular “contributor” on a wide variety of topics. There appears to be a topic or two that the institutions of higher learning didn’t offer you will find those topics here and they will not be easy just the truth.

    14. franco_american1962 said on July 4th, 2010 at 12:50pm #

      selfvaluing, drug avoidance, nonviolence, at least to me.
      At least to you. I like my plant material, thank you very much. The state can go fuck itself, acting in my best interest!

    15. Don Hawkins said on July 4th, 2010 at 1:29pm #

      The State with man behind the curtain so to speak is then a State of confusion.