“Black voters overwhelmingly turned out for Obama, who they perceived as sharing their struggle. Interestingly, Obama has no personal connection to America’s history of slavery; his father was Kenyan.”
That’s not an exact quote (though it’s as close as I can remember one particular example). It’s an amalgam of several I’ve seen in the post-election analysis. That paragraph – or one very much like it – has appeared in all the major news sources, and many of the smaller ones. In it, they show exactly how far we have yet to come with racism.
The embedded concept is that racism is somehow logically tied to a person’s genetics. You can easily find examples of where people used genealogy to try to prove their “purity”, but such examples are only really relevant where there is no clear social distinction, e.g. where someone can “pass”. But that’s not the type of racism that is routinely experienced today, nor is it the concept of “struggle” as mentioned above.
All of our society’s current racist effects towards Black people – especially the pervasive amounts of subtle institutional racism – can be traced back to the time of slavery. They have their roots in that time. But Black people who live in the USA today were not shaped and affected by the slave-owning institutions of the 1800s and before; they were shaped by the after-effects. Those after-effects did not (and still do not) care about genealogy; they care about visible differentiation. Do you look “different”? Do you look “different” enough that you can be safely considered “other”? Then those effects kick in. That’s all it takes.
To believe that racism has some kind of defensible basis in biology ignores the experience of any Black person living in the USA today. It does not matter to our modern racists where Obama’s parents came from – just what color they were. And even that criteria can change over time. Over the years, there’s been a lot of talk as to how much “Black” makes you not white? Less than two hundred years ago Irish and Italian immigrants weren’t considered white. That such a concept seems absolutely insane to us now just shows how idiotic and illogical racism always is.
So in a very real sense, it doesn’t matter who your parents are, or whether you have biological ancestors who were slaves. If you are treated the same, you share in that struggle as well. That so many commentators failed to see that should be another indication of how embedded and unconscious privilege is in our society.
Great post. My children and granddaughter cannot indentify with me even though I could not go to school in Arkansas when the schools closed.
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