Four years ago, the historic election of President Barack Obama moved the nation to ponder: Are we now a post-racial America?
And no matter how people responded to that question, most Americans seemed to acknowledge the election of our first black president symbolized, at the least, that our nation has moved some distance beyond the racial strife witnessed during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
However, history may judge Obama’s presidency differently.
Some time from now, taking a critical and honest view of Obama’s time in office, we may come to acknowledge that his election clearly did not provide evidence that we’ve entered a post-racial America. Quite the contrary, the Obama presidency may serve as conclusive evidence that not only is America still carrying considerable racial baggage but also that the needle measuring racial progress may have even moved backwards since the turbulent 1960s.
Consider the strikingly ugly and purely racist feelings often projected at Obama. It only takes a quick Internet search to find scores of such images. Some websites and media outlets have reported on these displays for the since the time we supposedly became post-racial.
If some people would call Obama a "nigger", a "primate", a "jihadist"or call for his lynching—as some of the images suggest—then surely they would do the same with all other African Americans. Even while knowing that such feelings exist, I was sickened by the sight of these images and the hatred they confirm.
And while the vast majority of Americans are not overt racists, an Associated Press poll released last week showed racial prejudice is still the norm—and on the rise since 2008. “A slight majority of Americans now express prejudice towards blacks whether they recognize those feelings or not,” according to the AP. The survey showed that 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes compared with 48 percent in a similar survey from 2008. A 2011 AP survey showed that a majority of Americans expressed anti-Latino sentiments.
It’s actually the AP poll that frightens me more about America’s prospects of defeating racism any time soon.
My greatest fear is that despite Obama and the enormous contributions of other African Americans, often against extreme odds, America still regards black folks as a race of whiny, lazy and violent people, as the aforementioned images and surveys suggest. What hope do we seriously have of defeating those age-old stereotypes, especially in the face of persistent racial gaps in education, employment, incarceration and income? I find those gaps as the legacy of centuries of racial discrimination in America. But maybe most Americans are beginning to see those gaps as the facts of reality—an inequitable world resulting from inequitable groups of people.
And if Americans truly believe that, in addition to the myth that we’re now “post-racial”—then the fight against racism is already lost.