Recently, President Obama appeared on an episode of The Daily Show for an interview with the new, South-African host and comedian, Trevor Noah. The pair covered quite a few topics during the 22 minute sit-down, the most noteworthy of which being the legacy of American racism. During the middle of the interview Mr. Noah asked the president how he skirts the line between being diplomatic and truly speaking his mind on the issue of race, Mr. Obama stated the following after a few opening remarks,
“We have by no means overcome the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow and Colonialism and racism.”
Mr. Noah nodded his head in heartfelt agreement as I shook my own in somber vexation. The problem I have with President Obama’s racially abolitionist proclamation (one which is echoed by nearly every democrat and many members of the GOP) is the utter vagueness inherent in it’s phrasing. Slavery was abolished, Jim Crow ended, on the ground, militaristic colonialism is no longer practiced and racism… well that has effectively become anything anyone says in regards to race, regardless of context. It’s exactly like saying, “The German people have, by no means, overcome the legacies of Nazism and war.”
Such statements are bizarre because in any truly empirically verifiable way, the German people have overcome the legacies of Nazism and war, just as the United States has overcome slavery, Jim Crow and colonialism. Ah-ha, a Tim Wise aficionado might exclaim, but what about racism?! Gotcha there! The answer, of course, is how the word is to be defined. There are really only two root definitions for racism used in common US parlance, those being:
- racism: Any acknowledgement or claim that race is (to any degree outside of skin/hair/eye color) rooted in biology as well as the claim that there are differences (to any degree outside of skin/hair/eye color) between phenotypically divergent groups.
- racism: Racial bigotry. That being defined as irrational hatred/disgust to other racial groups.
If President Obama is referring to the latter usage then that cannot be, in any total sense, overcome, as such inclinations will always persist (though naturally it would behoove us as a nation to mitigate such impulses as much as possible). If the former instance is the one to which the President is referring then, again, such things cannot be overcome because they are rooted in biological fact. What could you possibly mean by overcoming race but the radical transformation of humanity into something else? Once it is possible to upload our collective consciousness into a computer program then, perhaps, one might lend some credence to such a proposal, but certainly not before.
The abolition of race, in totality, ridiculous though it might seem to sane and rational individuals (or those not under the influence of coercive social dogmas) has become something of a Galahadian grail-quest for the mainstream political Left and, to a lesser extent, the Right. However, it is as achievable as reaching the sun via wings of wax, only in the racial abolitionists case their wings have melted before ever they left the ground.
Hence, once we have disposed with this Noel Ignatiev/Tim Wise-esque paradigm all one is left with are bad events which have happened in the past which those of us living today, regardless of the color of our skin, had absolutely nothing to do with. Therefore when Obama speaks of overcoming, he must be referring to emotional overcoming, since, as previously stated, Jim Crow, Slavery and all the rest of it has been disposed of and cast into the rubbish heap of history.
If this is the case there are only two ways to overcome things that have already been dispensed with, like slavery and colonialism – either we move on and focus on the present or the future, acknowledging that such past misfortunes have power over us only when we allow them to, or we shriek and moan like BLM and demand recompense for crimes that never affected us, from people who had nothing whatsoever to do with them. If your choice is the latter then you are not a virtuous revolutionary, you are, in no uncertain terms, nothing more than a thuggish beggar.
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