Earlier this month, I came across the article “What happened to post-racial America?” by Politico’s Roger Simon. You can find it here.
I’ve been reading the article a bit here and a bit there for the past week or so, finding it useful to a small project I’m writing for a foreign audience. At first read, I found it to be reflective of the kinds of thinking that (I feel) predominate in mainstream, liberal, political discourse. It was naïve, but clear about how some of that naïveté was constituted. It was focused on a simplistic measure of “racial reconciliation,” but also a simplistic measure of the facts of its nonexistence.
It wasn’t until tonight that I thought it might also be read as a small step for one political Liberal in his course of individual liberation from what was famously termed by one author as “personal whiteness.” Roger Simon writes the following in reference to the famous July 2008 cover of the New Yorker:
The cover succeeded (at least to me) in being so absurd that it poked fun of the people who believed the Obamas were dangerous, traitorous or foreign. As David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, said at that time, the cover “combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are.”
Today, those “obvious distortions” plus new ones get serious hearings on talk radio and cable TV. Today, posters mysteriously appear on the streets of Los Angeles depicting Obama as the white-faced Joker from Batman with the single word “socialism” beneath his face.
Simon’s reflection here is a good sign of progress. While he doesn’t demonstrate any profound measure of empathy—a form of critical thought that would have initially necessitated understanding, first, how others might have objected to the cover back in July 2008—he does show the same consequence. Here, as in other sections, he portrays race and racism in the U.S. as more complex than simple.
While his final measure of equality still revolves around the seductive “representation” (the problem that constitutes the very question he asks in the title to his piece) the fact of the limits of racial justice in the present moment could have a positive result was satisfying.
It’s sad people have to see what people of color have known for a long time; but it’s nice more people are once again seeing it.