As I was packing up this morning, I read this article by Reniqua Allen titled The first black president has made it harder to talk about race in America.
I think Ms. Allen has a point. Basically she's finding that white people want to be off the hook about racism now that we've elected a black president.
I have encountered many people who seem to believe, subconsciously or not, that Obama’s win is proof that America has reached the mountaintop. What more is there to say about race, they ask me, after this country so proudly and overwhelmingly elected a black president? They cite success stories as disparate as Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z and former Time Warner chief Dick Parsons. But Oprah’s billions don’t counteract the dire poverty and unemployment rates in the black community.
But as Ms. Allen points out, black success stories have been having this affect on white people since long before Barack Obama was elected president.
I suspect that this is more the issue for Ms. Allen:
Once Obama became president, I thought he might be able to somehow help us break through the status quo of awkwardness and silence on race.
I think this is a fairly common expectation from many on the left - the assumption that we were electing a movement leader rather than an executive head of government. I have to wonder just what she imagines President Obama doing to "break through the status quo of awkardness and silence on race." I happen to think Obama is smart enough to know that a president can't effectively do that. And if he tries, he won't be in office for long.
Ms. Allen seems to know that as well when she admits just how hard the conversations can be.
I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with starting these conversations myself when I have personally seen so much progress from my grandparents’ generation to my own. But there is still so much to talk about.
How do I articulate that it’s harder for me to find jobs with a “ghetto sounding” name, when a man with a “funny sounding” name holds the highest office in the land?
How do I explain how it feels to have almost every accomplishment that I’ve ever achieved be attributed to affirmative action? Most recently, a white PhD student in my program told me that I would sail through graduate school and land a wonderful gig, despite the difficult job climate, because of the “black thing.”
Or how can I not think of redlining’s impact when I, with my good credit and sizable down payment, receive notification that I, too, had been a victim of a discriminatory lender when I bought my condo?
Yep, the conversations are hard and I suspect that someone giving a speech from the comfort of distance won't cut it. We're going to have to dig in to the awkwardness and silence ourselves and take it on person to person.
Those are some of my thoughts in response to Ms. Allen's very provacative article. My question for you is "how do you think the first black president has affected the conversation about race in this country?" I'd love to hear what you think!