Race and American Identity

By js, 8 November, 2008, 3 Comments


By JESSE WASHINGTON, Nov. 8th, 2008

Shortly after leaving the voting booth, 70-year-old community activist Donald E. Robinson had a thought: “Why do I have to be listed as African-American? Why can’t I just be American?”

The answer used to be simple: because a race-obsessed society made the decision for him. But after Barack Obama‘s mind-bending presidential victory, there are rumblings of change in the nature of black identity and the path to economic equality for black Americans.

Before Tuesday, black identity and community were largely rooted in the shared experience of the struggle — real or perceived — against a hostile white majority. Even as late as Election Day, many blacks still harbored deep doubts about whether whites would vote for Obama.

Certainly racism did not disappear after Obama’s white votes were counted. No one is claiming that black culture and pride and community are no longer valuable. Many also dismiss the idea of a “post-racial” America as long as blacks and other minorities are still disproportionately afflicted by disparities in income, education, health, incarceration and single parenthood.


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  • Jaime Armin Mejía

    Hello JJ,

    I too read this earlier after Raúl Sanchéz sent the link to the Latino Caucus. It’s about the third article which has dealt with this sort of thing. One article says we’re in a post-culture wars time with the election of Obama to the White House.

    I tend to disagree with these sorts of pronouncements, regardless of what Obama may think. That younger folks no longer think in such cultural or ethnic or racialized terms has yet to be convincingly demonstrated to me. Unfortunately, we’re in Texas, or at least I am, and here in central Texas, kids continue thinking in ethnic and racialized terms. I witnessed this kind of thing this very week, before and after the election and its results.

    It would be interesting to know who in the media is pushing this idea around.


  • js


    I completely agree. I think that having people in positions of power definitely helps and having the president can serve as a powerful symbol but like I heard earlier “symbols don’t feed people.”

    The most problematic element of this discussion is that talking about it does not change the everyday reality and even worse makes it even harder for us to discuss this issue and makes it easier for people (white) in positions of power to say that “we are beyond the ‘race’ discussion.” Indeed, we are not, but why aren’t more people talking about that. WHO is buying into this “we are over race” discussion?

    Critical Race Theory pushes us to ask “who benefits from this discussion”? What this discourse may end up doing is silencing those of us who are going to be critical and not “buy” into it.

  • Jaime Armin Mejía

    Hey JJ,

    As we look ahead and the demographics change, it’ll be interesting to see if we, as raza, avoid committing what the gringos have and are doing to us, insofar as using not only identity politics but also langugage to devaluate each other.


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