2008 marked a year where the use of the phrase, “post-racial America,” emerged as one of the most used buzz phrases during the presidential election season. A narrative of a post-racial America permeated society, and as a result, many people believe the election of President Barack Obama marked the end of racial prejudice and discrimination in America and the beginning of equity for all.
This belief in the existence of a post-racial America seeped into the psyche of many Americans. I’ve even heard professional public servants profess that we live in a post-racial society. The narrative of a “post-racial America” is a powerful one, but it is not rooted in truth. If this is true and we do indeed live in such a place, then much of the work done in the social sector is no longer relevant.
To believe that we live in a post-racial America is to believe that we live in a society where there is equity in education for ALL races. To believe that we live in a post-racial America is to believe that we live in a society where there is equity in health access and outcomes for ALL races. To believe that we live in a post-racial society is to believe that there is equity in wealth for ALL races. To believe that we live in a post-racial society is to believe that we live in a society where there is social justice for ALL races. If public servants and change makers believe the fallacy of a post-racial society, then we can all say, “job well done, racial equity in ALL social areas has been achieved,” pat ourselves on the back and find other careers.
Professional public servants and change makers who believe we live in a post-racial America, and those who use it as a reason to score political points, have supported the alteration and repeal of laws and policies that are designed to acknowledge and rectify racial inequities. The Supreme Court of the United States voted to scratch Section IV of the Voting Rights Act of 1964. One of the underlying assumptions of this decision is the belief that we live in a post-racial society. The repeal of the Racial Justice Act in North Carolina is another example of how the belief in a post-racial society has permeated policy. Additionally, the redistricting efforts in Texas are based on the belief that we live in a post-racial America.
If we juxtapose the concept of post-racial America to the reality of racial disparities, professional public servants and change agents quickly realize that race still matters. We have to be careful, as professionals, when we proclaim something to be truth based on made up assumptions that stem from unknown sources and provide no proof of “post” anything.
Is every public servant’s or change agent’s work dependent on using a racial equity lens to work? No. However, we must not shy away from reality when facts don’t coincide with the fallacy. Professional public servants and change makers, it is ok to recognize that there are racial equity gaps in America. It is ok to acknowledge that although President Obama’s election was very historic, it did not remedy our country’s ever-festering wounds of racism and racial inequities. It is also ok to acknowledge that the role of race in our work is becoming more complex with changing demographics and cultural shifts, but it is something we must embrace, try to understand and continue to work towards justice for all.
One way we can seek greater understanding about race in America is to continue to confront it. Racial fatigue is real, but in those times when we are tired, we shouldn’t give up, but rather talk about it in a constructive way. Unfortunately, constructive conversations about race are not commonplace, and the social sector must do a better job in leading conversations about race. These conversations should be had both within organizations and with the broader community. Through conversations and storytelling we can begin to understand each other and ultimately build stronger communities.
The dialogue around the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the recent not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman, Juror B37 interview and interviews given by Tracey Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s parents, shows that there is still disconnectedness around perception and reality for different racial groups. As professional public servants and change makers, if we don’t have cross-racial and cultural-conversations that allow sharing of perceptions and personal experience, it will be very difficult for us to move communities toward brighter futures. Futures where there is greater understanding between all people.
Fortunately, there are tools that we can use to help us have these conversations. One that I recommend is President Clinton’s One America Dialogue Guide. This document is fifteen years old, but it is still relevant today. The opening letter to this dialogue is below.
March 18, 1998
Our nation was founded on the principle that we are all created equal. We haven’t always lived up to that ideal, but it has guided our way for more than two centuries. As we enter the 21st century, we know that one of the greatest challenges we still face is learning how we can come together as One America.
Over the coming decades, our country’s ethnic and racial diversity will continue to expand dramatically. Will those differences divide us, or will they be our greatest strength? The answer depends upon what we are willing to do together. While we confront our differences in honest dialogue, we must also talk about the common dreams and the values we share. We must fight discrimination in our communities and in our hearts. And we must close the opportunity gaps that deprive too many Americans of the chance to realize their full potential.
I hope that you find the information contained in this kit helpful for conducting dialogues in your neighborhoods, your schools, and your places of worship. Your views and ideas are very important to me, and I urge you to help me continue the national dialogue on race by taking a leadership role in your community. Together, we can build a stronger America for the 21st century.
Thank you for helping us to meet this most important challenge.
William Jefferson Clinton
As we, professional public servant and change makers, continue our work in our communities, we should be keenly aware that race still matters and not fall for the post-racial fallacy. There is still work to do in creating equity for ALL and we have a leadership responsibility in doing so.
Post written by Andrea Price, Social Change Strategist and Radio Show Host at The Giving Net