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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Post-Racial Myth, America still suffers from prejudice

The Post-Racial Myth
The Post-Racial Myth
Source: Harvard Crimson


When the Emancipation Proclamation was passed over a century ago, many Americans made the mistake of believing that color lines had been erased, blinding them to the harsh realities of the post-Civil War African-American experience. Now, as the first president with black heritage ascends to the White House, Americans are again quick to congratulate themselves for triumphing over prejudice. But, though Obama’s mixed background and encouragement of diversity are an essential first step in breaching racial divides, we should not be na├»ve enough to believe that racism no longer poses a problem in America.

Racial incidents still occur far too frequently. A few weeks ago, for example, my sister and a group of other middle-school students were on a school trip to Macon, Georgia. Their African-American bus driver parked in an almost-empty Dairy Queen parking lot so that the children could get something to eat. After everybody had made their purchases, the white manager of the restaurant came over to the bus and demanded that the bus driver move out of his parking lot, claiming he had not bought anything.

The bus driver and several of the children on the bus held up their DQ bags as evidence to the contrary, but the white manager still demanded that the black bus driver move; he then called the police, and the two white police officers who showed up enforced the manager’s demand. When the bus driver went to the policemen to protest the decision, he was arrested. It took the efforts of the trip’s white chaperones to convince the police that they needed the bus driver to take them back to Atlanta.

This blatant show of racism left an imprint on both the bus driver and the schoolchildren. That this event took place not in 1958, but in 2008, well after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and soon after the election of an African-American president, indicates how much work remains to be done in combating racial discrimination.

While an event like the one I mentioned is unlikely to occur in many parts of America—and perhaps if he lived somewhere else, the black bus driver would be quicker to take legal action for such treatment—there are unfortunately still several regions that linger in the pre-civil-rights era and have certainly not reached a post-racial state.

A brief look at the numbers makes this clear. According to a CBS News poll conducted earlier this year, three out of four Americans still believe that racism and sexism continue to be serious problems, and over six in ten African-Americans had recently heard a racist remark. A 2007 Department of Justice survey also found that blacks and Hispanics are more than twice as likely as whites to be searched, arrested, threatened, or subdued with force when stopped by police. The mere fact that an African-American was elected does not mean that there were people who specifically did not vote for him because of his race and that even those who did vote for him may experience racism in their daily interactions. Indeed, in some ways, diversity in America has even aggravated the problem: As the number of minority groups in America has increased, discrimination has been extended on a racial and religious basis to Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, and others.

Obama addressed these issues of race in America during his campaign, and he should not forget them as president. His administration has the power to heal such wounds in the form of much-needed legislation discouraging racism, institutional and otherwise—that of racial profiling, for instance. By formulating a diverse team, his administration can also set an example, encouraging diversity throughout businesses and institutions across America.

Obama’s election represents the overcoming of one significant hurdle to a post-racial America, but many obstacles remain. Only when we work together to eradicate all forms of prejudice from our society can we begin to contemplate a truly post-racial era.

Nafees A. Syed ’10, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Leverett House.

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