If you are bothering to read this, you probably remember how you felt on Nov. 4, 2008, when Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, a black man, was elected president of the United States. To many, it seemed as if a country with racism in its DNA had become a greater nation, almost overnight. With that one election, we thought wehad overcome our racist past and become the “more perfect union” the founding fathers had dreamed of. Post-racial America had come at last, and it was going to be amazing.
Yet, we fast forward six years, and sit here in front of their computers watching events unfold in the unlikely suburban town Ferguson, Missouri. Obviously, those who thought we were entering a post-racial era had jumped the gun somewhat.
That doesn’t mean we’re not getting better. Look at young people these days, and you see hope for the future. Most people under 30 seem to see race more as a physical trait, much like hair and eye color, and less as a stigmatized social label. At a press conference on July 19, 2013, after the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, President Obama himself talked about exactly that:
And let me just leave you with a final thought: that as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.
It doesn’t mean that we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country. (Source)
As Obama has pointed out, our elation and self-pride was probably a little misplaced and certainly premature. In fact, noted author and historian Shelby Steele published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times the day after the election in 2008 suggesting that many of the white people who voted for Obama were doing so just so they could say they did so and were in fact not voting to change the countries race dynamics, after all.
Of course, it is true that white America has made great progress in curbing racism over the last 40 years. … It is exactly because America has made such dramatic racial progress that whites today chafe so under the racist stigma. So I don’t think whites really want change from Obama as much as they want documentation of change that has already occurred. They want him in the White House first of all as evidence, certification and recognition.
But there is an inherent contradiction in all this. When whites — especially today’s younger generation — proudly support Obama for his post-racialism, they unwittingly embrace race as their primary motivation. They think and act racially, not post-racially. The point is that a post-racial society is a bargainer’s ploy: It seduces whites with a vision of their racial innocence precisely to coerce them into acting out of a racial motivation. A real post-racialist could not be bargained with and would not care about displaying or documenting his racial innocence. Such a person would evaluate Obama politically rather than culturally. (Source)
Put simply, Shelby Steele’s point is that the number of white people who voted for Obama did so because he was black. That’s largely the same reason many other people voted for McCain. And, if we’re being honest, it’s not post-racial to vote in any direction based on a candidate’s race. There is precious little difference between a teabagger choosing Herman Cain because he is black and says what they want to hear, and a voter for Obama who voted for him because they wanted to be on record as having voted for a black man.
Once the initial euphoria over the election of Obama faded away, it was clear that the President was being targeted far more personally and unfairly than previous presidents because of his race. Some of the attacks are political partisanship, but a lot of them are not. Take the issues surrounding his birth certificate. this issue was obviously race-based, especially when you consider that his opponent, John McCain, was born in the Panama Canal Zone, and all McCain had to do was come up with a birth certificate signed by a Naval Officer, showing that he was born in a U.S. Naval Hospital at a Navy Base for that controversy to die. (Source) Six years after his election, there are still people who insist that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and is therefore not a legitimate president.
Likewise, there are many white people who apparently saw Obama’s election to the presidency have some sort of deification. It’s difficult to recall commentary such as we’ve seen in the last six years, that seems to expect a level of perfection from this president that was not expected of previous presidents. For example, there has been constant commentary, almost from day one, that Obama is not taking on the Republican Party strongly enough. This is despite the fact that President Obama has probably given in on fewer issues than any president in a generation. Apparently, while they were electing an accomplished politician, many thought they were electing a modern equivalent of Huey and Bobby, or perhaps Malcolm X.
But the signs that we are not even close to “post-racial” go far beyond political machinations. Even after the Bush Recession wiped out the fortunes of whites and blacks alike, the huge historical disparity with regard to poverty continues to be maintained. In 2012, while we were still recovering from the Republicans economic bungling, the poverty rate was 12.7% for whites, but 27.2% for blacks. (Source)
Then, there are incarceration and arrest rates.
In no way should the United States feel proud about this on any level. We have 5% of the world’s population, and 25% of the world’s prison population. Yet, we’re the “land of the free,” am I right? What’s worse, our prison population consists mostly of people of color, especially black men. In this country, whereas one out of every 106 white men over 18 is sitting in a jail cell (which is already too high), one out of every 36 Hispanic men and one out of every 15 black men are also sitting in jail cells. (Source) That means a black man is about seven times more likely to be thrown in prison than a white man. If you think what the police are doing in Ferguson — a town where 92% of all arrests made are to the 63% black population — is isolated, it’s obviously not. If we were a post-racial country, incarceration rates and the crime rate should align pretty well, but they don’t. What’s equally disturbing is that according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2010, despite the fact that whites outnumbered blacks by nearly 6 to 1, 9.1 million African-Americans were arrested, as opposed to 3.7 million whites. (Source) That means, in our allegedly “post-racial” society, not only is a black man seven times more likely to be incarcerated, he is also 14.5 times as likely to be arrested as a white man.
Does all of this mean that African-Americans are just more likely to be criminals than white people? Well, they are more likely to be in poverty, and statistics do show that people in poverty to commit crime more often than people in the middle class or higher, but a ratio such as the one above is simply disproportionate to reality. Black people are not 14.5 times as likely to be poor as white people, so to expect them to commit 14.5 times as many crimes is ludicrous.
What’s actually happening is that law enforcement has come to depend on racial profiling to “solve” or “prevent” crimes. Profiling is a law enforcement practice in which people are targeted for suspicion of crimes based on common characteristics among criminals that have been caught and arrested previously, including race. Racial profiling is simply lazy police work, because they use these profiles to generalize about particular groups of people based on their looks rather than their actions. Effective police work requires a close look at specific behavior, not a person’s skin color or the way they wear their hair. This begs the question, how many crimes by white people are overlooked because law enforcement is targeting “the black guy”? In a post-racial society, shouldn’t we be looking at how people behave and act, rather than lumping them together based on skin tone?
The effects of this profiling are devastating. Statistics show that white people use drugs far more often than blacks, yet blacks are far more likely to be arrested for possession. That makes no sense, especially given that black people are a smaller proportion of the population and they are more likely to be in poverty. Think about it; if black people are using and selling so many drugs, who are they getting them from? Not only do whites use cocaine at twice the rate of blacks, but black people only control 2.7 percent of the wealth, making it highly unlikely that they are making regular trips to Peru.
This profiling that also results in an unfair court system. Not only is a black man far more likely to go to jail then a white man, is likely to receive a sentence that is, on average, 19.5% longer than the average white man. Some of this is because of the types of crimes that have been deemed “black crimes” by law enforcement just receive stiffer penalties. One glaring example is the previous disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine. Until Congressional Democrats passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, the U.S. Sentencing Commission found there to be a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between the two forms of the same drug. At the time, someone caught with five grams of crack cocaine faced a five-year mandatory sentence and someone with 10 grams of crack cocaine faced a 10 year mandatory sentence. However, someone caught with powder cocaine would have to have 500 grams or more before they faced a five year mandatory sentence, and 1000 grams or more before they faced ten years. (Source)
It is extremely difficult to not ascribe racial overtones to this type of sentence disparity. Rich white people used powder cocaine, while poor inner-city blacks were more likely to use crack, because of the cost. The other reasons given for the disparate sentences are completely bogus. studies have shown that crack is not more addictive than powdered cocaine. There is also no evidence that crack has a greater association with violent crime, or that children are more likely to be drawn to crack, or that crack use by pregnant mothers is more dangerous to their unborn child than the use of powdered cocaine. The types of images conjured up by those who supported the sentencing disparity were wholly inaccurate, and disparaging to people of color.
If all of the above doesn’t convince you that were not “post-racial,” consider this. In 2012, a study by the Center for American Progress discovered a spending gap of $773 per pupil between schools with 90% or greater non-white enrollment in schools with 90% or higher white enrollment. Not only that, but those schools that experienced a 10% drop in white enrollment saw an average drop in spending of $75 per pupil. (Source) Does that sound like a post-racial society to you? When white people leave schools, they take money with them. And lest you think $773 isn’t a lot of money, consider this; in 2011, education spending per pupil was approximately $11,300. However, when you remove such expenses as capital improvements, administration, transportation and food, none of which can be cut by much, we are left with approximately $8,000 in actual education spending per pupil. that would seem to make $773 very consequential, especially in those school districts that are already strapped for cash.
The educational system is in no way “post-racial” in other ways. A March 2014 Department of Education study, for example, found that black preschool children are subject to far more and harsher punishment than white preschool children. Despite only making up 18% of the student population, black preschool children made up 42% of all student suspensions. (Source) Such a wide gap can’t be explained away by blind chance or a study design defect, but it’s unlikely that black children are inherently three times more likely to misbehave, especially when we’re talking about children under five years old.
We all need to face facts. We are not living in a post-racial society, and disparity between the races persists, and will persist until we stop treating situations like what is happening in Ferguson as an anomaly. What is happening in Ferguson Missouri is not an anomaly. It is far too normal, and that should make us so uncomfortable that we do something about it. The first thing we need to do is realize that we have two choices in every election, not a dozen. We have Democrats and we have Republicans, and right now the Republican Party has become so radicalized that what is happening in Ferguson doesn’t even register on their radar.
It is simply a fact that if Michael Brown had been white, at worst he would have been arrested and sitting in a jail cell. But more than likely, if he was white he wouldn’t have been targeted in the first place. You look at all of the statistics, and all of the reality, and it should really piss you off. And when I say it should piss you off, I’m talking about white people. White people should be pissed off, because this is not what America is supposed to be.