The Spindel Conference was my first philosophy conference and it was quite the experience. I’m not ashamed to admit that much of what the speaker said went over my head and at times I felt as if I was listening to another language. But I did retain some information so bare with me as I attempt to relay what I learned to you.
The session I attended featured Paul Taylor, the Associate Professor of Philosophy at Temple University in Philadelphia. His speech was entitled “After Race, After Justice, After History.” He began by talking about the social imaginary, which is how one views his/her life, and how this imaginary is related to post-racist and post-racial views of America. In order to be in a post-racist society people must leave behind the idea of white supremacy and only then can a society be post-racial, which is looking past race entirely. Taylor argued that America is not a post-racial or post-racist society and his biggest example of this was Obama’s presidential campaign.
Many white democrats would like to believe that just because Obama is running for president America has somehow been able to put race aside and look past the color of an individual’s skin. This is considered the color-blind ideology in which believers disregard race and treat all individuals equally. Now, as lovely as this sounds, Taylor argued that Obama’s campaign does not prove this. Obama may be an icon of the post-racial ideology but that ideology is not realized in American society. This is due in part to what Taylor calls rapid cognition, which refers to the process of images bringing up emotions that can’t always be explained. Also tied into this is the affect art has on us. His example was the movie The Last King of Scotland. This movie stars Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin, the Ugandan president. According to the movie Amin is a savage. Why, Taylor asked, is this believable? Historically speaking Amin could not have been so savage or he would have never succeeded in becoming the president. Still, Whitaker is believable in the part. Taylor argued that this is because black actors often play savages so our minds are conditioned to accept that image. Now, this doesn’t mean when we see Obama we think savage, but still, his image may draw up certain unexplained emotions based on what we have been exposed to in society. Until the emotions brought up by such images are no longer felt, America as a society will never be post-racist or post-racial.
Taylor had more to his presentation but it was hard to keep up with and keep organized everything he said. But the post-racial ideology stuck with to me. I agree with Taylor that we are not post-racial, and I doubt we ever will be. There will always be people who refuse to look past skin or ethnic origin. Though racism and racial issues are a part of our history and will forever affect our country I do believe this affect can be lessened. I think Obama’s campaign is a step in the right direction, but if people are not willing to change then we could easily take two steps backwards.