Race matters. Even when not explicit, it is an inextricable ingredient of social, political and economic reality in America and throughout the world. The running debate, notwithstanding, the primacy of race should neither be ignored nor minimized. (Barak Obama initially eschewed any mention of race but subsequently, had no choice but to address it directly.)
At the recent national NAACP convention, Obama reiterated his pledge to be responsive to Blacks’ concerns but his subsequent comments were general: “I’ve spent the last year and a half talking about poverty and the problem of injustice........My answer (regarding focus on Blacks) is that’s what I’ve been doing my whole campaign.”
This skirts the question. Blacks’ concerns are significantly different than other inner city dwellers. Obama’s statements are similar to those of public school officials nationwide, for example, who fail to distinguish between the needs of Black students and others by providing insufficient resources for a quality education.
Debate still rages over racial pride and kinship, but the more notorious disputes include affirmative action and school desegregation-ordered by the much-heralded but dysfunctional Brown v. Board of Education decision that failed to require implementation of remedies to repair the harms of “separate but equal.”
Law professor Derrick Bell’s analysis of race and racism, particularly as related to Blacks, is as courageous as it is disturbing (Faces at the Bottom of the Well, 1992.”) (Insincere apologies for having previously cited and extolled Professor Bell’s analysis. However, he powerfully articulates the essence of racism and its pernicious effects on the lives of Black people.)
Derrick Bell: “Racism is an integral, permanent and indestructible component of this society.” He argues that no matter what policies are adopted to better Blacks’ lot they will not succeed as long as the majority of Whites do not see their own well-being threatened by the status quo. Bell reminds us that our fore bearers, though betrayed into bondage, survived the slavery in which they were reduced to things, property, and entitled to neither respect nor rights. Somehow, they managed to retain their humanity as well as their faith that evil and suffering were not the extent of their destiny. He asserts we must do no less than they did: Fashion a philosophy that both matches the unique dangers we face and enables us to recognize in those dangers opportunities for committed living and humane service.
Commenting on the contemporary relevance of racism, Bell points out that during slavery, racism’s terrifying dangers from without were hardly more insidious than those Blacks face today, especially in the inner-cities-all too often by other Blacks. Victimized by a callous, uncaring society, many young Blacks vent their rage on victims like themselves, thereby perpetuating terror that Whites once had invoked directly.
America’s myth of automatic progress does not include those who have been marginalized: Blacks, the poor and others whom the myth ignores are conspicuously in the center of the present and must call for a national history and agenda that incorporates their experiences. Slaves had no choice but to accept their fate. De-legitimizing the racism of the White majority requires accurately describing it; racism remains at the center, not the periphery, of the lives of Blacks and Whites, not in distant memories.
Professor Bell insists that in order to extract lessons from slaves’ survival-and our own-we must first face squarely the horrific oppression in that survival with the kind of commitment that Black people have had to display since slavery i.e., making something out of nothing-carving out a humanity for oneself with absolutely no help, only imagination, will and unbelievable strength and courage.
Combating racism calls for engagement and commitment, first recognizing and acknowledging (at least to our selves) that our actions are not likely to lead to transcendent change. That realization and renewed dedication will lead to policies and campaigns that are less likely to worsen our condition, and more likely to convey to the powers that be that we are not only against them, but determined to stand in their way.
Race transcends the pervasive cult of its denial in America and despite contemporary camouflage, its manifestations are no less ubiquitous. It continues to soil the fabric of this society that is still based on the power of the majority to control others on the basis of race or and ethnicity.
Failure to acknowledge the role race plays throughout society, in government, schools, the economy, presidential campaigns, etc., ensures its continued prominence. Those oppressed must lead the fight for change.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail