Columns, Opinion

SANTARELLI: Post-racial America?

You will never forget where you were, whom you were with and what you were thinking about around 11 p.m. EST on Nov. 4, 2008. Time seemed to almost stop. Not out of anger or euphoria, but time seemed to stop because you knew you were watching an election that will stand out above all others. No matter what your political affiliation or feelings on the president-elect may be, every man and woman in this country knows politics, government and to an extent American culture will be different after that special election night. But the change in our society that results from the 2008 election will not necessarily be immediate or obvious.

While flipping through both the local and cable news coverage after the results came in, I became increasingly surprised and annoyed by a phrase many respected analysts kept using: ‘post-racial’ or ‘post-race America’ and the ‘post-racial politician.’ This statement, I believe, is referring to two different ideas. One is that after the election of Barack Obama, America has moved past the idea of race as an identifier among Americans. The other idea is more accurately defined by Michael Earl Dyson of The Los Angeles Times as ‘post-racist America,’ in which Obama’s election signals the end of racism.

Obama being elected the 44th president of the United States is without a doubt a great thing for the African American community, but his ascension to power and success should focus on the president-elect the man, not the black man. As Kennedy said in 1960, ‘I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic.’ Obama’s race should not overshadow his journey.

If anything, this classification of Obama as ‘the black president’ magnifies racial divides in our country. For those reasons, I reject and find alarming any effort to declare Nov. 5, 2008 the dawn of a ‘post-race America.’

Though a man from a minority race reached the presidency, racism undoubtedly still exists and will persist for some time in America. While Obama enjoyed winning by the greatest margin any Democrat’ has achieved in 32 years, Barack Obama only won the votes of 41 percent of the white male vote. It should not be assumed that the other percentage of white male voters voted against Obama because he was black, it should be realized that though Obama won, racism still remains an issue.

If even .1 percent of America is racist, then racism still exists in America. Unfortunately, since it’s likely a fraction of America will always hold racial prejudices, racism is something that will never be truly defeated, but can only be greatly subdued. If Obama’s election opened eyes to the fact that the majority of Americans in this country are not racist, I feel pity for the environment one would have had to live in where this was not an already known fact.

Furthermore, what is great about this nation ‘-‘- but the president-elect may not agree with ‘-‘- is that he was elected not just as an American but as an American of African decent. Our nation is great because as Americans our different ethnicities and races are welcome and can be freely expressed. I whole-heartedly reject that the idea of post-race America suggests an ethnically populist nation. One of the most inaccurate descriptions of the United States is that of a melting pot nation. In a melting pot, all of the different flavors are forcefully mixed together, with the result being one bland flavor in which different tastes are undecipherable. America is great because you can come here and practice traditions and customs of your ethnic culture, speak your own language and freely express your religion while still being an American.

Obama did not beat John McCain because he was black, but this statement should not overlook ethnicity and race. The 2008 election was not an event 232 years in the making. I can’t believe people went into the polling booths six days ago with the notion in their mind that it was time for America to elect a black president. Such a notion would undermine everything for which this country stands. In my mind, the better-run campaign touting the candidate who was most able to connect to the people won. John McCain even said, ‘The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly.’ Let us recognize Obama’s successes, but not assume his victory gives us ground to overblow a single precedent into more na’iuml;ve and inaccurate statements about America.

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