Friday, August 7, 2009

Transcending Race: The Pitfalls and Possibilities

Lessons to learn from a Bi-Racial World Leader and a Post-Racial World Icon

Michael Jackson’s death was a shock. The racial dialogues that followed were not. Obama’s landslide election was surprising. The racial undertones of his presidency are not. Both men are seen as transcending figures, breaking barriers and bridging divides. Obama will forever be known as the first African American president of the United States. Michael Jackson will forever be known as the most popular global figure of the past century (but discussions about him will be about his image “transformation” over time as much as it will be about his music). The paradox of being defined fundamentally by race while being seen as a transcending figure reveals the pitfalls and possibilities that surround our racial reality.

Race: the Power of an Illusion is a PBS documentary I recommend all view, particularly part 3. It explains race as a social construction (no “real” thing as race). It describes how we all believe we “see” race (in physical characteristics) when what we really “see” are social and political categories that we have created that have real consequences in people’s lives. There is no need to “transcend” race because it is something we have created for social and political purposes. What we must transcend are the social and political advantages/disadvantages we have attached to “race”. How we do that is through social justice and the only path to social justice is to embrace the humanity in us all. Short of that acceptance, we will never solve the problem of the color line.

I have heard there are many stages of grief; denial is the first, followed by anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. The problem of the color line will never completely be addressed until we grieve properly for a nation that never was the United States of America.

Race has haunted this nation from its founding and to its foundation. Many want to believe that our racial nightmare is a thing of history books, but current events suggest otherwise. For a nation supposedly post-racial, it seems I can’t escape stories with racial frames every time I turn on the news or surf the web. If you've been reading this blog, you know I said a violent backlash to an Obama victory was more likely than if he lost. Well the evidence is clear that assessment was correct. Hate crimes are rising. Racial tensions in some towns are exploding. Assassination threats against the president are at highest level. Reading comments on YouTube serves as a reminder that racial hatred is very much alive and well…so much for post-racial.

It is ironic that something that is not even real holds so many imprisoned.

Some are imprisoned by denial. They deny a legacy of white supremacy and white privilege. They deny contemporary institutional racism. They deny the past and the present, and in doing so, affect future possibilities.

Some are imprisoned by anger. Blinded by rage for the wrongs committed against them that they are unable to recognize the gifts bestowed in life’s journey of trials and triumphs. They are unable to forgive, and because of that, they are not able to live, love, and grow.

Others are imprisoned by rationalizations and qualifications. Knowing the truth about race in their conscious, but unwilling to accept it. So they bargain to keep the world they know instead of having the world that should be. They choose the devil they know (status quo order) over the unknown, a world where all people are valued.

Some give up on humanity completely. They have been hurt one too many times, and no longer trust anyone, including themselves. Instead of living, they exist. But life is not meant to be lived this way, so depression takes root and motivation to change this existence becomes a heavy burden.

But there are those that accept the humanity in all, regardless of race, class, religion, or ideology. Obama’s ability to be open to all points of view make him a political frustration for ideologues on the right and left, but it helped him organize a grassroots campaign that shocked the world. Michael Jackson provided the soundtrack of humanity and love, and for his gift of this music, he became one of the most beloved human beings the global community has ever known. Social and political solutions may yield some progress, but pitfalls and setbacks will no doubt remain. We will never be able to “transcend” our history, physical differences, or experiences that shape our lived realities. But we can accept the humanity in us all, and if we can do that…accept without categories, accept the past, and accept the truth, the possibilities are endless.

Previous Blogs/Related Topics:

Death…and Life

Part Two: Death ….and Life


hiphoppa13 said...

Well thought out and written. Being of bi-racial descent, "race" became a personal subject for me to study experientially when I exited academia and entered the working world.

It is easy to call many kinds of ignorance "racism". As you state here, this ignorance is connected to the long term effects of historical, political and social factors attached to the idea of "race". One of those effects felt almost universally today is the corporate thinking pattern that favors choice-making authority over communal interests in the hands of those with the least communal experience. The result of this is direct hypocrisy in language...that's felt on a surface level.

On a deeper level, I think these factors also affect the development of the brain over time. Those whom the system does not serve justice equally cannot rely on left-brain logical synapses without feeling something "not right" in the right brain. The result of this is enhanced creativity in language.

Right now there is a language barrier affecting behavior in America to a point where to be "black" in popular culture has come to mean to be "more creative", "more sexual", "more rebellious" from the status quo perspective. In one of the Rondavoux songs I have a rhyme:

"'Too black, too strong' is still relevant cuz the white half of my brain gets jealous of my intelligence."

America breeds these kind of thoughts. In a sense, when the correct political & historical frame is given through education, black/indigenous culture reveals the norm of humanity and is more liberating for all races affected by the American system. To me, this is why Hip Hop was inevitable as a phenomenon, and as it starts to permeate systems of education maybe we will start to see where its true potential lies.

Tina said...

Thanks hiphoppa13 for taking the time to read my essay and for posting your comment...your comment provides important insight on long term effects of history on lived experiences (and cognitive development) as well as black/indigenous culture's liberating frames on humanity for all "races". Hip hop's educational potential is something I believe in deeply as a solution to a history of miseducation.