The Post-Racial Myth is an idea that was ushered to the front of social justice conversations after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. There were many people who began to claim that we live in a "post-racial" society: one where race isn't really a cause of injustice or distinguishment. The axis on which this claim spun was the election of our first African American president. It's a romantic view of our social climate that is unsafe because ignoring race (and therefore racism) or choosing to believe that we live beyond it can create more dangerous situations as opposed to facing our flaws as a society head on. Racial division can only grow wider when we ignore the struggles that individuals go through at the consequences of their skin color.
- Why it's Harmful. The post-racial myth dismisses the experiences of injustice that people of color face everyday. Race still impacts the social-economic lives of everyone in the country. As of today, the wage gap between people of color and white citizens is worse than in 1979, with black women being hit the hardest, entering the workforce with a 34.2% deficit. The rate for racially driven homicides in the year of president Obama's election was seven times higher than that of whites, at 247,000 registered deaths. There are so many different demographics of people being affected by racism in unique ways that it becomes irresponsible to not address those complexities. The idea of being post-race comes from a perspective of privilege; in order to believe that we live in a society that's no longer seriously affected by race, you most likely just aren't personally affected by racism.
- No one should be "the token." The idea of post-race reinforces the idea that having a trope or "token" person of color abolishes racial inequity. You know when someone gets called out for saying something racially insensitive and they go, "I'm not racist, one of my closest friends is black!" That's what it felt like many Americans were saying after the election of President Obama. Often it even seems as if directors of TV and movies cast just one person of color to represent racial diversity (recently television has been diversifying characters to all types of skin tones). Creatives like Scandal's Shonda Rhimes and Hamilton's Thomas Kail are challenging this notion by creating space for everyone in their stories and plots. Pushing the idea of post-racial doesn't just affect politics-- it affects our social lives and what we see in popular culture. It pushes back against all the work that people have been doing to create more realistic and equal representation.
- Utopia? You don't say. If social constructs like race can be dis-acknowledged as a thing of the past, so can other binaries that affect privilege. It's not that simple: there's still a lot of work to be done! Can you imagine if after gay marriage was accepted, people began to say we were in a post-homophobic society? Race is a human invention-- an identifier like gender and beauty standards. Embracing the idea that we are past race is dangerous because it opens the door for Americans as a community to desensitize ourselves further more from the issues of others. There are always going to be minds to enlighten and educate. Unfortunately, aside form living in an alternate utopian future, there's no way to avoid encountering intolerance and insensitivity. Luckily there is a way to combat those evils: with poetry and education of course!
- "We're all the same on the inside." This is an example of a phrase to avoid. Dismissing one characteristic that affects social privilege can open the door for passivity towards another. This phrase is often used by folks who mean no harm in trying to prove that we are all relatives of humanity. Unfortunately the intent doesn't have the same message as the impact. This phrase is problematic because it's a blanket statement-- though we may all be the same on the inside, there are outside identifiers like race, gender identification, physical disabilities, and beauty standards that have a major influence on indviduals' quality of life.
- Reverse Racism. Racism is unfortunately an experience exclusive to people of color by definition; in order to be a racist one has to be in a position of social power. Racism perpetuates institutions and systems like the school-to-prison pipeline and wage inequity. Being prejudiced or bigoted are traits accessible to all citizens. Beside the definitive technicalities it seems insensitive for a non-minority to use the phrase reverse racism because it equates prejudice with racism and they aren't the same in affecting entire communities.
- Is it really better to be "Color Blind" or to "Not See Color?" The film and Broadway industry consciously made a decision to stop using the term "color blind casting" and instead adopt the term "color conscious." This is for good reason. The above phrases are often used be people with harmless intent. What people who use these phrases mean to say is that they objectively judge people based on their character, not their color. However, the message it sends is that it's easier to ignore each other's cultural complexities rather than embrace and confront the dichotomies they create. The theatre industry's decision to use the term "color conscious" works better because it shows an acknowledgment of casting differences; rather than having auditions where the race of the actor isn't disclosed, color conscious auditions actively try to diversify casts.
- Use poetry to rewrite misconceptions. Write poems and narratives that celebrate diversity and inclusivity. Write from a place of understanding and mutual respect for the cultures and races of others. Show a mutual interest in social justice issues that affect yourself as well as others. Being considerate artists and activists means trying your best to think about the way your actions (or lack thereof) can affect others.
Some Exercises that Encourage Empathy and Inclusivity:
- Challenge yourself to write from the perspective of another demographic, showing respect and acknowledgment to the different difficulties that we all experience due to our identities (ex: if you're a straight black male try writing from the perspective of a young queer female).
- If you're someone who has faced injustices due to your racial background, try writing a poem that offers clarity and insight to these instances.
- Try to write a character-driven poem where no two people share ethnic backgrounds.
- Write a poem looking towards a feature of equality and acceptance rather than tolerance. Imagining a better world through poetry can actually manifest and accelerate social change.