November 07, 2008

Is racism over?

That depends on what you mean by `racism'. Are there still large numbers of racists -- people who hold racist views? Well, duh. Do they still hold anywhere near as much power today as they did twenty or forty years ago? Obama's election suggests that the answers here is clearly no. And, as much as Obama's presidency will go towards marginalizing those views (and hence, one imagines, decreasing the number of people who hold them), it will not completely eliminate or completely marginalize them. Remember that some people still think of Martin Luther King primarily as a disruptive anarchist/socialist.

But limited-albeit-sweeping progress in these two respects isn't the full picture of race in American society. As brownfemipower recently put it,

I woke up far too early this morning, and thus was incredibly beyond cranky at all the white folks speculating if racism is…could it be…DEAD???? Because, you know, if one black man could make it as a president, Katrina didn’t *really* happen just years ago. And racism only exists in the form of some ancient by-gone problem of the black community not being able to vote, right?

And, to borrow the fantastic phrase of a recent acquaintance, the elimination of racism in American society is not the elimination of structural racial injustice. Poverty, education, disaster relief, crime and punishment, the recession (honestly, the technical definition is just not helpful; let's drop the euphemism already) -- all these and more are experienced differently depending on one's race or ethnicity (and gender, sex, ability and economic class, of course). Even if racist beliefs or intentions no longer play an important role in causing injustice, injustice still has a racial aspect that cannot be ignored.

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