Friday, October 3, 2008

Obama, Forest Whitaker, and post-racist ideology oh my!

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.


Courtney Martin said...

I believe Taylor is making a good point that our country is not yet post racial nor post racist, but find it odd that he would use Obama as his main example. From my perspective, this election has been a major step for our country in coming to terms with our racist past. It seems that each generation is helping to change the racist ideologies that have been around since our country was founded.

In a broad spectrum, I feel that the countries around the world are also seeing that American's reputation is changing. When I was abroad this summer, everywhere I went people wanted to know about Obama. Now traditionally, Europeans are considered to not like American's and their American ways, but this new man of change, a black man, possibly becoming of the president of the US intrigued them. They also assumed that everyone is an Obama fan, which I found interesting. Anyway, I know the US has a long way to go in becoming a post racial society, but I feel that this election has helped to prove we are moving in the right direction.

Virginia Beasley said...

I'm not sure I believe that a post-racial society is ever achievable, at least not in the near future. It is the natural instinct of all creatures to settle into groups with others most like them. I feel it is something so ingrained in our make up that there's no way it can never be somewhat of an issue. I do very much hope that prejudice and harsh stereotypes can diminish over time, but I find it silly to pretend that we could ever live in a color blind world.

Also, a post-racial society would have to go both ways and I'm really not sure races other than caucasian are ready for that either. In International Studies it has been discussed how in countries in the rest of the world a person of a race different from the majority of that country can never really be considered part of the society. The United States is beyond that notion, because we were founded as a nation of immigrants, but exclusion seems to in many ways be a part of human nature. It's a tactic by which people form their identity. I wish it could be different, but it's hard to change something so basic in every culture of the world.

Allison Fish said...

I think what Taylor meant by post-racism is being misinterpreted. It's not about discrimination against someone because of their skin color; it's acknowledging that they even possess a different skin color. In a post-racist society, Obama is not a black man running for president, he is a man running for president. Europeans evidently are not post-racist either if they view him as a "new man of change. a black man". This election has been a step forward in eliminating racism, but not in becoming post-racist. It is great that stereotypes and prejudices have obviously been diminished, or at least by the majority, but that is a different progression in and of itself. I don't think it's silly to think we will ever live in a colorblind world, but it is silly to think we are on the way to living in one now.

Scarlett D'Anna said...

I think Obama’s ethnicity, while gaining him a lot of positive light in this election, is not completely helpful in his aspirations for the presidency. If I’ve heard one racial slur against Senator Obama since the primaries, I’ve heard at least a hundred. Admittedly, before coming to Rhodes, I lived in a small town outside Nashville where the majority of the people are… not as open-minded as myself. However, it seems to me that the media is spouting optimism to the point where the glass is no longer half-full – the cup runneth over. Yes, the fact that a black man is even running for president is a great step forward for a country like the United States, but a large portion of the American public still holds racist viewpoints that will prevent them from voting for an African American.

I have personally witnessed white Democrats who would, quote: “Vote for a worm before a Republican” refuse to cast a vote in the next election because they are afraid to vote for Barack Obama. This may seem extreme, but there are a lot of Obama-is-a-Muslim/Obama-is-the-Antichrist e-mails floating around the Web. Not to mention the “sock monkeys” and apprehension because his middle name is Hussein (clearly this means he is related to Saddam… not). Most of these examples are scare-tactics, some Republican propaganda and some not. The point to me, however, is not how ludicrous these claims are, but rather how many people believe and are swayed by these ludicrous claims.

ThomasJ said...

It makes me sad thinking about how America has yet to become a post-racist society. Racism has not died out in this country. It has been going strong for hundreds of years. Nominating a black candidate to run for president would seem like it is a step towards becoming a post-racist society but I do not believe that it will help. If anything, it seems like it would make the situation worse. A black candidate does nothing to stop racism in this country. Nominating him is just a mask to make it seem like its getting better.
The ugliness of the moods at recent McCain rallies, in which people are yelling that they want to kill Obama, shows that racism is just under the surface, when it’s not on the surface itself. Congressman John Lewis of Atlanta, a hero of the civil rights movement, thinks that the anger generated by Sarah Palin is similar to the anger that Alabama segregationist governor George Wallace used to bring out in his rallies. It remains to be seen whether white voters who have told pollsters they will vote for a black man will actually vote for him (the “Tom Bradley” effect, named after the black mayor of Los Angeles who was running well ahead in the polls in a California gubernatorial race until election day, when white voters turned against him).
If Obama should actually win, and an event of this magnitude does not help America move toward a post-racist society, I don’t know what will. I cannot fathom a way for America to transform itself into a society without racism. It seems unrealistic to me. It is unlikely that America will be able to do anything to solve this problem. Hopefully, one day, time may be able to help us.

Alex C said...

I can see what Taylor is saying when he claims our country is not post racial or post racist,and I can even see why he is using Obama as an example. In elementary schools we are taught that racism is a thing of the past. "A long long time ago people used to judge others based on skin color. African Americans were enslaved and treated very badly. But thanks to President Lincoln our country is no longer racist and no one is judged based on skin color." Im sure we all heard at least a version of this in our schools, and all believed it for some time.

However when looking at Obama's election we can see that we still see skin color as a trait that differentiates people. When Obama first announced that he would be running for president most people were unable to focus on his ideas for the economy or war, they were so focused on the fact that he was an African American. While he would be the first African American president, this should not be what people focus on, and throughout the year people stated that the democrats had to chose between a woman or an African American. Not mentioning their policies nearly as much as they should have.

Looking at Obama it is clear that our country is far from post racism, we still think it is such a big deal for an African American to run for president.

Cal said...

Another misconception, I feel that might have been overlooked in this conversation, is that a "color-blind society" has been ingrained as something that is worth achieving. I feel that this is not the case, because a color-blind society denies the aspects of every individual. "Color blind" would necessitate putting all humans on equal footing, which is acceptable (unless you are Nietzsche). Along with equality, though I feel that the general concept of "color-blind" fails to adequately recognize cultural aspects of an individual, and merely weighs us all as equals. This denies certain experiences and ideologies, which are central to existence. We don't need to harp on the differences, but I have a problem turning a blind eye to any culture's experiences and ideas.