Post-Racial (adj.) — A phrase typically employed by misinformed white adults to describe their belief that society has progressed beyond race. In some occasions, users of said phrase claim to “not see race”, meaning that they hold no prejudices, see no cultural/racial differences, and cannot distinguish between the clear physical characteristics of people of different races. According to a recent joint study conducted Brown University and Howard University, Stevie Wonder is one of the only humans actually incapable of seeing race, as he is literally blind. Others who claim to have this ability were found to be incredibly insecure about their own ingrained prejudices, coining the “no homo” of the modern racial dialogue (or lack thereof, rather).
Recently, this phrase has seen widespread use, as racial tensions have flared (on the white end; they’ve been flaring for 500 or so years on the other end). No longer can white folks so easily pretend that race does not exist simply because their behaviors and beliefs are not racialized. (Racialized (adj.) — perceived, viewed, or experienced in a racial context) Those who ideologically denounce racial injustices, such as the prison-industrial complex’s replacement of slavery in the US, yet do not assess and dismantle their own biases and prejudices often contribute to the systems they complain about. Everyone possesses biases that manifest in certain situations, whether they express prejudiced behaviors or not. However, it is not a natural human trait; it is taught by a society that refuses to recognize all humans as humans. I will confess that I have experienced racist perceptions and first impressions of people of color despite hardly ever being exposed to racist thoughts from others growing up. The fact of the matter is, bias is sneakier than the disgusting hate speech with which we are (hopefully) all disgusted. First impressions are the product of societal conditioning; the next thought that pops into the mind is the conscience. Through this one can possess biases and never feel the need to confront them because one “knows they’re wrong”. Obviously, this doesn’t work. If it did, our society would look very different. (Trayvon Martin, for example, would be alive, since he would not have been killed had he not fit the “bad guy” schema in George Zimmerman’s mind.) As privileged people, we cannot continue to cut ourselves slack; since we white people created this issue, we must fix it. Maybe admitting that we haven’t solved the whole racism thing would be a good start.
It’s strangely telling that it takes a viral video leak for many white people to remember that racism is alive and well. We laud President Boren (of the University of Oklahoma) for his handling of their (now-former) fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s inexcusable behavior, yet we are not having the conversation that needs to occur: how can we ensure that all fraternity members, or all people in general, recognize that they are contributing to racism if they are not actively fighting it? Silence equals complacency; likewise, participation in such a disgusting song cannot be defended by “we were kidding” or “I don’t actually think that”. We have progressed enough to punish those involved in the (un-isolated) incident, yet we have so much further to go. Educating privileged people about the injustices people of color face can help bring attention to the issues at hand, but concrete action must be taken. The students expelled from OU certainly have expressed regret for their actions, but the groupthink that fosters such racism has not been attacked. Why not? Is it too uncomfortable for is white people to admit that we all have harbored these sentiments on one level or another?
Such education can be found in reading literature, such as Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The reader sees how mistreated people of color can be, often far beyond the reader’s scope of imagination. More importantly, Invisible Man teaches how easy it is to internalize racism on both ends; the narrator, a black man, gives in to his understanding of his place in society as taught by the whites in power. Interestingly, Ellison sets up the opposite side of the coin through the use of a wealthy white benefactor of the narrator’s all-Black College: Mr. Norton, the man, views the school as a symbol of his generosity and as something to boast about to his friends. His insincere interest in the life of the narrator and the future of the school as a whole underscores one of the more saddening truths of racism: such liberals often become complacent or self-serving in their actions, ultimately undermining those who they claim to defend. Hopefully, as the dust settles in the wake of this disgusting event at OU, we can learn to separate the Mr. Nortons from those who truly care about the future of our imperfect society.