by Yan Dominic Searcy
As the United States of America readies itself for the inauguration of its first acknowledged Black President, many newspapers have been covering a post-racial America. Even prior to his election, academics had been presiding over panel discussions about a Post-Obama America in 2009 where race becomes an outdated social artifact much like analog TV. For many in the U.S., Obama is the racial equivalent of the digital converter box for analog TV.
Unlike a simple conversion from digital television signals to analog signals, the election of Obama does not convert racism. Actually the election of Obama confounds traditional concepts of race. In recent memory, no presidential candidate or president-elect has received the same level of media scrutiny and attention as this president. It is his race that has generated this attention. It is his Blackness coupled with traits not associated with popular portrayals of Blackness (intelligence, eloquence, judgment, beauty) that have made him a novelty. And new means news.
However, something tragically familiar happened in the festive hours of New Years Day 2009. A police officer killed a young Black male that for him likely fit the popular portrayals of Blackness (uneducated, inarticulate, oppositional, ugly). Maybe this familiar Blackness is why the story did not gain much attention outside of the San Francisco Bay. I learned of the incident only when a friend from Oakland called and told me to Youtube it. I watched the videoed execution of a handcuffed, prone, and unarmed Black man by a white police officer in a subway station. I learned only of the riots and protests that occurred afterwards again on Youtube. Being that the shooting of a Black man by white officers and a resulting riot was not a novelty, I suppose it was not news.
But it should be news to a post-racial America that we continue to be a racial America. It should be news that Black life still remains undervalued. It should be news that despite the election of Obama, white institutional supremacy remains. It is that institutional supremacy that dictates what is news.
It is that racist institutional supremacy that tacitly allowed a transit police officer to fire a weapon at point blank range into the back of an unarmed, handcuffed, young Black man in the subway while hundreds watched. Racism has not been converted. Racism, it seems, just isn’t news.
See videos of the shooting and subsequent riots in Oakland at:
Yan Dominic Searcy has taught at Chicago State University for the past 14 years where he is an associate professor in the departments of social work and society and serves as the president of the faculty senate. His areas of research are urban poverty, community economic development, race and diversity and social work with adolescents.