I am a Millennial.
By virtue of being born in the fall of 1990, I’m a member of the generation for which the illusion of “post-racial America” was boxed up, wrapped, and presented, with the promise that social ills like racism and its stains were a burden endured by people like my parents and grandparents, but no longer existed.
In school, I learned about the horrors of the Civil Rights Movement in a way that created a disconnect between the past and present, as if my grandfather – who I would see later that day – hadn’t lived it. Like a fine makeup, the glossed pages of black and white photos concealed the bruises and scars left by the violence committed against black bodies; the extraordinary courage of the sit-ins appeared casual; the viciousness of codified segregation was dulled by the seemingly innocuous signs reading “Whites Only.”
But history tends to repeat itself; rather, the antagonists change.
In fact, if the past five years have taught us anything it’s that the U.S. has yet to enter the elusive post-racial era, that is, assuming the threshold for such a state exists. There was the highly-publicized killing of Trayvon Martin. The senseless choking of Eric Garner. The drive-by shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice; and the summary execution of Walter Scott. Representing only a few of many tragedies, the deaths of these four boys and men tend to suggest that, as a country, we are far from the utopia of “posts,” free from the various suffixes of “-isms” and “-phobias.”
And as President-elect Donald Trump has, and continues to, foster an environment defined by hate, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the empty covenant, and more convinced that Generation X and their predecessors are a damn lie. Lost and searching for answers like everyone else, I find myself asking one question (ok, one of many questions): whatever became of the promise of post-racial America?
To Be “Post-racial” Is To Necessarily Be Post-Privilege
It’s a question asked by many of my skinfolk as we struggle to reconcile the allure of the promise with the reality of being black in America. Specifically, being black in a society that in large part doesn’t seem to recognize that it has a problem. Like any black person will tell you, it’s an environment in which you’re made to feel crazy for your perceptions of racial prejudice, like it’s all just a figment of your oppressed imagination . . . and the same environment that taught seemingly every non-black person on your timeline to say stuff like, “Let’s just wait and see all the facts” while they watch a video of a man being shot in the back.
But I digress.
Let’s just get to the numbers.
Because they seem to provide some clues as to where the promise was lost. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center earlier this year suggests that while 88 percent of black Americans believe that our country has more work to do to achieve racial equality, a little more than half of white Americans believe the same, with many instead believing that the country has already made the necessary changes.
Yes, at the same time that marches were going on in the streets protesting police-inflicted violence against black people, an unbelievable 38% of white Americans polled felt that America had done enough to grant black people equal political and social rights. Yes, at the same time our soon-to-be president was being passively endorsed by the likes of the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, and inciting violence against protestors at his rallies, these same people turned around and pointed at the White House, saying “See, we must have done enough. We have a black president.”
So what became of the promise of post-racial America? Well, it’s admittedly more complex than my laptop battery and our collective attention-spans will allow for, but in short, it was engulfed by the ironically black hole that is White Supremacy, and its inclination towards doing just enough to provide the façade of equality, but never too much as to undermine its own position. And like Very Smart Brotha’s, Damon Young, following the election, I’ve come to never doubt its existence.
It’s the system that has, for centuries, worked to preserve the privileges and powers associated with “Whiteness,” in defiance of even the most diverse populations. Its American edition was borne out of the Transatlantic slave trade and the need to establish a racial hierarchy, and gave way to the subjugation, rape, and murder of millions of darker hued folks. The structure of White Supremacy has worked the magic of its preconceptions, habits, and beliefs to create the longstanding problem of economic inequality in America by creating barriers to wealth for those outside of the white network. I mean, just eight years ago, it finally allowed a black man to occupy the highest office in the land, providing the veneer of equality; just like it did in years past with legislation designed to protect the rights of black Americans.
But the reality is this: a post-racial worldview is the Kryptonite of White Supremacy, and that’s why you’ll likely never live in this type of world. After eight, beautiful years of seemingly political and social progress, society recoiled, gathered itself, and a little over a month ago chose to defend the spoils of Whiteness at all costs. No matter that it meant fueling the era of Nouveau Jim Crow, or electing an admitted sexual predator, a swindler, and an overall unqualified man to lead our country. In spite of the black men unnecessarily killed by officers being a fixture in the news cycle, and hate crimes being on the rise since the presidential election, the system did exactly what it was designed to do and protected... itself.
So I won’t hold out hope, waiting to live in a society that doesn’t see me as black – after all, racial identity is the foundation of status in America. To live post-racially is to live in a world post privilege, and privileges often aren’t easily relinquished.