This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

January 21, 2009

Black in White

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — pprscribe @ 4:20 pm

What would be the proper post-post-racial frame for yesterday’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the USA’s 44th president?

A “post-racial” frame would be to claim that this event proves that the US is “past” race. Let us call this the Transcendent Frame. A second possible “post-racial” frame would be to claim that the skin color of the President, the new first family, and a large number of inaugural guests, participants, and commentators was beyond notice–or at least beyond care. Let us label this frame the Pink-with-Purple-Polkadots Frame (as in, “I don’t see color: I wouldn’t care if Obama were Black, White or pink with purple polka dots).

In the first case, a majority of yesterday’s news coverage would probably be seen as an apt celebration of this historic moment of truth. But, the assumption would be that today, the conversation should focus on other things and that, in fact, from here on out we ought not talk about race. In the second case, much of yesterday’s coverage is likely seen in poor taste…rude, even. People who see-only-one-race-the-human-race, or else who see individual human beings as if covered in a variety of multi-hued and multi-patterned fabric, tend to be almost resentful of any mention of racial categories.

But both these frames would be post-racial. The original question was what would a post-post-racial frame be?

Keep in mind, in thinking about the question, that at this point in this blog’s life I have yet to adequately define “post-post-racial.” This is by design. I think that a definition or definitions will present itself or themselves through the process of engaging in such activities as wondering what a post-post-racial frame for yesterday’s inauguration would be.

Here is one possibility. I think I will, as a placeholder, call it the Black-is-the-New-White Frame. Much of the gushing during the news coverage yesterday seemed to contain a nugget of awe and disbelief. So much seemed so novel to so many. Little Black girls can be adorable! A Black woman can be gorgeous and elegant! There are so many highly intelligent, well educated People of Color surrounding the new President! Aretha and Beyonce and Joseph Lowery–oh my! Everywhere the cameras turned–black, black, black, black. Black people, black music, black poets, Black marching bands. Black.

But a post-post-racial reaction would be to assume that such sights are normal, to be expected, nothing out of the ordinary. It is not so much that “White is right” and so now Black is right, too. It is more that White=normal, the default or baseline position, with everything else seen as a deviation from it. So, in post-post-racial, the cuteness and beauty and intelligence and talent of Black people is not an achievement, but the norm. It is not so much to be celebrated, but to be expected. And Black (and other “of-Color”) inclusion is also seen as normal. So normal, in fact, that it would odd, the next time the country has a White president, if the inauguration were as lily White as past ones (until yesterday) have been.

A key difference, however, between this frame and a regular old post-racial one is that discussion of race would continue. In fact, talking about race would be just as normal as seeing race and being surrounded by diversity. We would be conscious about race and the need to discuss it, without being self-conscious and fearful about doing so.

Well, that is one possibility.

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