A few days ago, John McWhorter—a linguist and social critic—penned an essay for the New York Daily News that declared that racism is waning. While McWhorter conceded that racism still exists, he concluded that, with the reelection of President Obama, the influence of racism has dramatically decreased throughout the years.
Does racism exist? Definitely. However, I am more interested in how much it matters.
Here’s what part of the mail I got that was not interesting: those infuriated by the mere suggestion that racism might be less prevalent than it used to be. There persists a heated core of people who seem to think the sentence “Racism is declining” has some kind of fetishistic power.
They seem to worry that it will cause a backlash or reversal. They worry that white people might misinterpret the sentence and – well, I’m not sure just what they think is actually going to happen next.
All I know is I’ve been told for a good decade now that it’s dangerous to say “racism is declining” – and the last time I checked, during that time, America elected a black President. If that’s a backlash, let’s have more of it.
McWhorter’s stance echoed a previous op-ed touting the demise of racism in which he wrote:
The times just don’t fit the grand old rhetoric, and nothing attests to that more than the fact that a black man will have occupied the White House for eight years, not just four. And the second time, he beat an opponent who gave him a run for his money. This is real. The issue is no more whether there is racism than whether there is weather. The issue is whether racism works. Increasingly, in so many ways, it would seem that it just doesn’t.
After President Obama’s historic 2008 election, many wondered if we’d finally reached “post-pacial” America. They wondered if the election of the nation’s first black President meant that black folks had finally overcome.
As the media picked up on the post-racial America meme, many African Americans resisted the idea that an Obama presidency meant that racism was a thing of the past. They argued that while a black family occupied the White House, African Americans were still disproportionally affected by poor schools, the prison pipeline, access to health care, and higher unemployment rates.
Although it’s true that systemic racism is no longer overt and legislated, the affects of the bad old days of our nation’s history continue to affect many of our citizens today.
While black folks are no longer forced to the back of the bus, we are being marginalized by lawmakers who are more concerned about suppressing the “urban” vote than ensuring all citizens have access to the support they need to improve their lives.