Racism Is Over
by John McWorter
The question someone like me has been asked to answer several times a week since Nov. 5 has been, "Are we now in a post-racial America?"
Giving an answer requires that we know what the question really refers to: whether America is past racism. Moreover, the point is largely racism against black people, i.e., Barack Obama, i.e., the people who are America's eternal shame, and so on. We are not really thinking about racism against Arabs. Most of us have a sense that the Asian pitching in on how the question applies to her is vaguely beside the point.
So, in answer to the question, "Is America past racism against black people," I say the answer is yes.
Of course, nothing magically changed when Obama was declared president-elect. However, our proper concern is not whether racism still exists, but whether it remains a serious problem. The election of Obama proved, as nothing else could have, that it no longer does.
I make that claim while quite sure that in 2009, a noose or three will be hung somewhere, some employer will be revealed to have used the N-word on tapes of a meeting, and so on. America will remain imperfect, as humans have always been.
It's not an accident, however, that increasingly, alleged cases of racism are tough calls, reflecting the complexity of human affairs rather than the stark injustice of Jim Crow or even redlining. A young black man is shot dead by three police officers and only one of them is white. A white radio host uses a jocular slur against black women--used for decades in the exact same way by black rappers celebrated as bards.
The issue, then, is degree. When it comes to racism, too many suddenly think in the binary fashion of the quantum physicist: either there is no racism or there "is" racism, which, no matter its nature or extent, indicts America as a land with bigotry in its warp and woof.
But anyone who wants to take this line from now on will have to grapple with the elephant in the middle of the room: the president of AmeriKKKa is black. If the racism that America is "all about" is the kind that allows a black man to become president, then I'm afraid the nature of this "all about" is too abstract for me to follow, and most Americans will feel similarly. It's time to change the discussion.