Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
My first reaction to watching the unfolding Saga of Skip Gates's Cambridge Arrest was that America's postracial bubble, like its recent economic troubles, was about to pop. The fact that some observers had never bought into the story of a race-free America purged of its past sins by a watershed presidential election had done little to diminish either that narrative's moral resonance or political weight.
Since America's racial disparities remain as deep-rooted after Barack Obama's election as they were before, it was only a matter of time until the myth of postracism exploded in our collective national face. That they would rear their ugly head in the form of an intellectual and racial cause célèbre is fitting, since black scholars and activists have been engaged in a robust debate over the meaning of race in the Age of Obama.
Suddenly Obama's recent declaration before the NAACP—that American blacks have come farther than at any other time in our country's history—seems suspect, our national progress undone by the fact that Gates's predicament has become a metaphor for the nation's legacy of racial discrimination.
Friday, July 24, 2009
If you have a chance check out my brother speaking 9 April 2009 at The New York Public Library on a panel titled Making Sense of Black Nationalism in the Obama Era.
PENIEL JOSEPH: I disagree with that. I think the Eric Holder speech. We’re talking about the Attorney General of the United States, first black attorney general, made a speech February 17th of this year about race called A Nation of Cowards, it’s a very specific speech, more sophisticated than Obama’s March 4, 2008, speech. He talks about the reasons for Black History Month. He talks about the politics and practices of white supremacy and institutionalized racism and how Black History Month can be the font to start conversation nationally that we haven’t seen since the Kerner commission. So Holder’s speech was a much more sophisticated speech about race. Because what Obama did was what King Solomon did—he parsed. Right, so he said we’re going to split the baby down the people, so black people are to blame and so are white people. There’s a problem there because black people didn’t start slavery and black people didn’t institutionalize Jim Crow. So the idea is if we want to have an honest conversation about race, it’s not about parsing and saying, “well, we’re both to blame, fifty / fifty,” so the politics of Katrina are “because your mom smoked crack and George Bush was a jerk, fifty/fifty.” That’s just not the truth empirically. And I’m saying this as a historian.