Politics & Media
Mar 26, 2008, 05:31AM

Post-racial? Not Yet

Before we hail Obama as the redeemer of our nation's biggest sin, we have to remember there's still a long way to go in American race relations. From the Middlebury Campus.

 There is a new and disturbing trend in U.S. race relations - the media has declared, and college students have embraced, that we belong to the "post-racial generation." Though the term goes back a ways, it gained momentum in the media when the country's youth began to show its commitment to the candidacy of Senator Barack Obama.

When I first heard the term, I began to throw it around with a sense of pride. I told my friends about it and encouraged them to use it. We were writing the next chapter in this country's racial history. Though "post-racial generation" has not entered our generation's popular lexicon, I began to see the idea of it reflected in the attitudes of college students. And that's when I began to worry.

I remember reading a review of the movie "Crash" in which the author suggests that the film had gotten it all wrong. "Crash," the reviewer argued, presented racism today as something that's bold and in-your-face. To the contrary, the real problem with racism nowadays, he argued, is that it is sinister in its subtlety. It can be quiet and inter-woven into the fabric of our culture, making it ever-difficult to confront head-on.

Getting to the point - I fear that our generation's support for Obama will lead us to become inappropriately, and dangerously, complacent with the status of race relations in this country. We still have a lot of work to do, and it's challenging work given the sometimes illusive nature of racism in our society today.

Looking back at an important speech that Obama gave at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church in January, I was struck by how even the candidate himself warned against complacency and in turn urged action.

"The Scripture tells us that we are judged not just by word, but by deed," Obama said. "And if we are to truly bring about the unity that is so crucial in this time, we must find it within ourselves to act on what we know, to understand that living up to this country's ideals and its possibilities will require great effort and resources, sacrifice and stamina."

Even on Tuesday in a speech about race, Obama preached that we need to continue to work towards narrowing the gap between "the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time."

But let me move away from the politics of today and bring the issue back to Middlebury. This campus lacks the sense of urgency that will be required to bridge the racial divide. I believe that we live on a campus that lacks the kind of integration we theoretically demand, and that destroys a little piece of what a progressive place like Middlebury ought to stand for. Walk into any dining hall. You'll know what I mean.

Though this apathy has been long-standing here, the great fear is that if we become the first generation to claim colorblindness, we overlook the pressing racial issues of our time. Until we make more meaningful steps to bridge the traditional socioeconomic divide between whites and various minority groups, should we even dare to mention a post-racial generation? Until inner-city minorities are offered the same educational opportunities as suburban whites, do any of us have the right to sit back?

Going back to politics, I worry that in its support of Obama, our generation will come to embrace the false idea that it has entered an era more advanced in terms of racial dynamics than the reality would suggest. Obama is right in framing the idea of a post-racial generation as an important aspiration, but let's not kid ourselves into a false sense of complacency when there are many miles left to go.

I'm taking a history class right now on the Civil Rights Movement. One of the most striking elements of the class for me is learning about the longevity of the movement. The fight for equal rights was not waged only on buses and in diners over several years, but across this whole country over many generations. It would be a tragic rejection of that history if we divorced ourselves from the realities of the day and gave up the fight when others have brought us so far.


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