Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Just what does post-racial mean anyway?

By William P. Muhammad

By now most of us have probably heard the latest buzz regarding the term “post-racial politics,” and with the political ascension of President-elect Barack Obama, other terms such as post-racial society, post-racial era and post-racial policy have all been floated into the public discourse.

Although for years it has been the hope and prayer of Black folk to overcome racism and to finally arrive at that shining city on the hill, because of Mr. Obama’s November win there are those who say we have. While this position may be true for the privileged few, it is nevertheless clear that the masses of Black people have not arrived, and to say otherwise is naïve at best.

There are reasons to be circumspect toward those advocates of the so-called post-racial agenda, not only because of its euphemistic sound, but also because of a solid historical pattern that continues to this very day. When looking at various African-American communities across the country, it is not difficult to note that Black people, for the most part, do not provide for their own goods and services, and many products unique to the needs of Blacks are not controlled by us at all.

Can Black people truly embrace a so-called philosophy of “post-racialism” and sit as equals when land, access to capital and ownership over the means of production are the basis of freedom, justice and equality?

With the end of chattel slavery in 1865, there was an understood promise made of 40 acres and a mule to the formerly enslaved. Later reneged upon during the presidency of Andrew Johnson, there is no telling how it would have played out had it been allowed to follow through. Nevertheless, in spite of the obstacles and the hostility many Southern whites harbored toward Blacks, at the end of the Civil War the formerly enslaved began building lives for themselves starting out with little or nothing. Eventually leading to the establishment of successful businesses, farming communities and even towns, prosperity did not come without a price.

Causing resentment among whites once again, a backlash manifested itself in the form of the nightriders and the Ku Klux Klan, often with the complicity of local and state government. With a federal government that often looked the other way, lynching, intimidation and repressive legal and business practices discouraged and disheartened many causing them, among other things, to move North in what became known as the “The Great Migration.”

Resettled primarily in the industrial belts of the North, those who fled the South or left for other reasons had to start over again, and as before, Black businesses and institutions sprouted up to serve the needs of their communities.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the denial of public accommodations and segregation led some to a revolt against the system, leading many into what became known as the Civil Rights movement. However, as the quest for equal treatment and access to public accommodations evolved into a demand for “full integration,” the economic base African-Americans had built began to erode once more. As the infrastructures and the mechanisms that supported Black communities declined, so did the quality of life within them.

By the 1970s and 1980s, with the closing of inner city factories and the increase of inner city crime, particularly through the introduction of illicit narcotics and guns, the little economic self-sufficiency we had left was more an exception than the rule.

Today, with the loss of Black owned land, restricted access to capital, virtually no ownership over the means of production and mounting debt, Black Americans find themselves maneuvered into a state of economic dependency. Our consumer dollars, which benefit those living outside of our communities, are based upon jobs, which for the most part, are located outside of our communities. This, coupled with the Black middle-class debt burden, proves that Black people must unify, take responsibility for our condition and find solutions to our own problems.

However, to solve the problems plaguing American society by encouraging Blacks to deny their unique struggle and heritage, but this time in the name of a “post-racial” agenda, is nothing new. Traditionally speaking, and under different names, this was used to divide and control both the former slave and the indigenous populations whose customs, folkways and mores were not accepted by the dominant society.

There is still much work to do in breaking up the old mind of white supremacy, but it will only come through breaking the myth of Black inferiority. To deny our Blackness in the meantime is to deny the common thread that binds us together as a people, and doing so would condemn us to yet another generation of losing ground.

In order to be respected, Black men and women must first respect themselves, become a productive people and want for their brother what they want for themselves. If the advocates of the so-called “post-racial agenda” want a society dedicated to freedom, justice and equality, then perhaps it would be better to call for and work toward a “post-racist” society instead.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.

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