Commentary: The Dream of a Post-Racial America Is a Cop Out

Forget about the so-called under-qualified “affirmative action” hires and students, the real problem is America’s desire to put a quick fix on racism.

Posted: 10/04/2011 05:30 PM EDT
Filed Under racism

When murmurs about an impending post-racial America began percolating after President Obama’s election, many hoped the idea would take hold, heralding a new era of race relations in America. But if the American public had never before seemed so enamored of a lofty race-based concept, it could very well be for one reason only — our notorious nation of slackers is looking for the easy way out of its race problem. 

 

Let’s face it, our society is obsessed with quick fixes, and it seems that, in that same vein, some are trying to fix our race problem the same way: fast.

 

It would be arrogant to assume that a problem as socially and institutionally ingrained as racism can be so quickly rendered moot because a handful have made it to the "mountaintops" of society. It’s not only ridiculous to believe that racism can be so easily surmounted, it also reveals our society’s inability to deal soberly with one of its most hurtful topics.

 

Here’s how deep the problem lies: In a recent study conducted by researchers from Tufts University, Stanford University and the University of California at Irvine, people were shown pictures of a computerized, racially ambiguous face in different hues, paired with different styles of clothing. The study’s predominately white participants were more likely to indicate that the figure was Black if it was dressed in a janitor’s uniform rather than a business suit, even if the suited figure’s skin was darker. In addition, mouse-tracking data showed that even when participants decided that a face paired with lower-status attire was a white person, their mouse initially hovered toward labeling the figure Black before the final decision.

 

This is post-racial thinking? If he wears a suit, he’s probably white?

 

Some Black people also buy into these notions, such as anti-affirmative action crusader Ward Connerly, who recently wrote that “more than anything else, the pursuit of diversity overshadows and subordinates excellence and competence and often makes us content with mediocrity” — an assertion that itself smacks of racism. To make such claims, one must accept that allowing access to greater opportunities for the disenfranchised somehow thins the intellectual stew, an assertion that is simply untrue. 

 

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor famously ruled in the 2003 affirmative action case Grutter v. Bollinger that she hoped race-based university admissions considerations would be obsolete within the next 20 years. However noble the wish, you can’t put a 20-year timeline on a problem that’s been brewing for centuries. The Supreme Court is scheduled to revisit affirmative action in university admissions this term; whatever the outcome, it is unlikely that this will be the last decision the court makes on the issue, because the nation still has so far to go.


Racism is not over yet, people. So let’s hunker down and do the hard work of righting the wrongs and making sure that access truly is equal for everyone before we start getting ourselves all jazzed about never having to be race conscious again.

 


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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