A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

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A POST-RACIAL AMERICA?
By Alison Walkley

Established on November 4, 2008 and cemented into our history on January 20, 2009, the United States of America surpassed a racial line with the election of President Barack Obama. Due to Obama’s ethnicity, some Americans and other individuals worldwide have labeled the country ‘post-racial’. However, as the 2008 race for the presidency made it clear, racism is still thriving in this nation.
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Despite a plethora of factors that go into a black identity – namely class and education – the color of one’s skin remains an identifying marker; the darker you appear, the ‘lesser’ you are as a person to some. Barack Obama’s presidency has brought these issues to the surface again. As an Afro-European who bridges the race line, Obama is a symbol of an America that has the ability to come together on an issue that has historically divided us above all else.
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Reflecting over the last couple of years as Obama has entered the spotlight of American politics, can you remember even one time when he was referred to as ‘white’? How about a moment when his race was not mentioned at all? Though our newest president is indeed just as white as he is black, there was not one time either of these scenarios occurred because our nation remains fixated on race as a defining trait.
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We remember the One-Drop Rule, a colloquial term used during the Jim Crow era to describe anyone who had even “one-drop” of black blood in them. Terms to describe such people, most of them derogatory, included “mulatto”, “half-breed” or “mutt”. Black Americans who have other races in their blood are still considered black, though by their peers they may still be seen as “not black enough”. Oftentimes, individuals who fit the One-Drop Rule have just as much trouble fitting into the black community as any other. While these unfortunate realities may have lessened in recent decades, shown in Obama’s campaign and election, the racism and intolerance at the heart of the issue are still alive across the nation.
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In the primaries, conservatives raised their voices about the United States being ill-prepared for a black president, Obama being an elitist and endless rumors about the candidate’s place of birth and religious practices. Simply because of the color of his skin, Barack Obama was berated for his education, class and background. Some people, even fellow blacks, criticized him for appearing “above” his race. Evidently, every dark-skinned person with the middle name Hussein is a Muslim, right? Also, don’t forget that he could not have been born in this country with a Kenyan father and a childhood spent partially in Indonesia.
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Every single one of these misguided assumptions all point back to one factor: skin color.
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With every new generation we are getting further away from racism, considering that it is a prejudice learned primarily within the home. The oldest generations alive today tend to be the least tolerant to minority races because many of them were alive when segregation was still a daily reality. Eventually, the population will include only individuals born after the Civil Rights movement was won, making it more likely that our nation’s racist past will be put behind us once and for all. Just think of the children being born and conceived at this very moment. They will come into this world knowing that it is possible to have a black president. A mere two years ago, many thought this was not going to happen for decades to come.
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Obama’s election is surely an historical milestone, however it does not erase the racial issues that persist among the majority of the 50 states. This country will not become post-racial until we are first a racially understood nation. One cannot look beyond race and what it has meant in the past until the ability has been granted to see the world out of another’s eyes. Once we acknowledge our differences, we will be able to embrace and celebrate the variety of strengths that come from our discrepancies.
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As President Obama himself stated in his Inaugural Address, “we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness…We are shaped by every language and culture…and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass…and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.”
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That peace, in terms of racial equality, has been evolving since Martin Luther King Jr. took to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 and proclaimed his dream for the United States of America. Though we have yet to achieve King’s racial utopia, this past election proves that we are a country with the capacity to change for the greater good.
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