Ackerman lecture series questions eradication of race line
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 30, 2012 23:04
Since the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, it has become increasingly popular, especially in the media, to refer to our current era as a “post-racial America.” But is that really a fair assessment of the current state of affairs in this country?
This was the question posed last Tuesday evening as Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences, Lawrence D. Bobo, took the stage in room 14-220 of the VC. There, he addressed a house filled to the brim with notables from around the school and the city, with the guest list even reportedly boasting a delegate from the United Nations.
“The post-racial narrative,” said Dr. Bobo, “far exceeds where things are happening on the ground level.”
“Only [if we broke the] connection between race and where you worked, what you earned, whether or not you actually had a job at all […] would we be closer sociologically” to being post-racial, he argued from the lectern, setting a serious tone before bringing a few rabbits out of his hat in the form of Stephen Colbert and Dave Chappelle, whose comedic work he was able to use to drive home some of his main points.
When it comes to being post-racial, “We ain’t there yet,” he said jokingly early in his presentation, extracting a few huffs of understanding from the diverse, if almost entirely suited bunch gathered in front of him.
Bobo’s speech was part of The Lillie and Nathan Ackerman Lecture Series on Equality and Social Justice in America, funded through a generous gift from Rosalyn and Irwin Engleman in honor of Mrs. Engleman’s parents.
According to David Birdsell, Dean of the School of Public Affairs, the series “gives the school an opportunity to sit down with some of the best thinkers in the country about [social justice] issues.”
From them, said the Dean, we can learn “what we should be thinking about now […] what research areas are most fertile, to shape and to inform our own work.”
The topics covered in Dr. Bobo’s presentation included differing interpretations of what the term post-racialism means, what happens when racism is seen as passé (in what he calls the Beigification of America), the common pitfalls of the black middle class, effects of racialization, and how to heal the wounds created by over two centuries of racial inequality in the US.
Dr. Bobo presented statistical data on racial intermingling that was shockingly unexciting, pointing to a less dramatic shift in ethnic blurring than one would expect to see given the hype surrounding this topic in the mainstream media over the last decade.
These statistics accented the danger in what Bobo referred to as a “premature triumphalism” when it comes to racial issues. Such a mindset, he warned, fosters a “passé […] if not pointedly false assessment of the challenges” facing minorities today.
Upon the election of Barack Obama – the first at-least-not-fully-white President of the United States – Bobo said, “There was a great crescendo of celebration, and rightfully so.” But since then – and possibly as a result of the media claims that America had become post-racial, he argued – the Obama administration has suffered from the “deft management of the existing racial divide.”
After explaining the finer points of this blundering, Bobo turned the attention of audience to a video clip from the Colbert Report from February 8 2007 interview with Debra J. Dickerson, author of the book “The End of Blackness.” The interview took place after Obama had declared his candidacy and become the frontrunner for the Democratic Party.
During the interview, Dickerson claimed that since Obama’s father is from Kenya, and therefore since Obama isn’t descended from the lineage of American slaves, he’s merely “an adopted brother” of the American black, or in other words, he’s only “as black as circumstances allow.”
“A depressing thing,” Bobo said after the clip ended, has been watching the “thoroughly racialized […] first three years of the Obama administration” from the sidelines.
Racist, altered images of the President have surfaced, depicting him as a tribesman in an anti-healthcare reform ad, with a “Hitler” moustache in another ad, and in one disturbing example served up by California GOP Official Marilyn Davenport, Obama’s parents are depicted as chimpanzees in an attempt to joke about the President’s unwillingness to provide a copy of his long-form birth certificate.