- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 12, 2008


Barack Obama’s success raises the issue of whether white America may be more willing to move into a post-racial society than is black America. The polls demonstrate many whites, especially in Southern states where it was least expected, strongly support the black junior senator from Illinois.

This raises two questions for black America: Does continually focusing on racism serve to reduce racism? And secondly, is racism the cause of all our problems?

If the answer to those questions is no, it is clear that a continued emphasis on racism will do nothing to move us to a post-racial society that could address the challenges facing low-income people.

The failure to embrace a post-civil rights agenda will really be most detrimental to those who are the weakest of our society. Most of the political pundits both left and right of center, whether Rush Limbaugh on the right or Al Sharpton on the left, have one thing in common: They are materially well-off. They all have health care. They all are insulated from the up and downturns in the economy. And they live in safe communities and their sons and daughters are not in harms’ way in crime-ridden, drug-infested neighborhoods. And whether or not there is racial reconciliation, they will prosper anyway.

Creating solutions for those who are less fortunate is not the basis on which we judge their effectiveness. The only thing we see is how much publicity they generate by pillorying their opponents and increasing sales of their books and radio and TV shows.

We must not let them stand in our way of moving to a post-racial world. They are gatekeepers, and what we need is bridge builders who can bring together the wealthy to empower the community leaders who have solutions for the problems of those who are less fortunate.

To many, to celebrate accomplishment unto itself is to be accused of not understanding history — that the only acceptable attitude on race is pessimism. And if one is optimistic about the future, you are accused of ignoring history, being blind to the reality of racism and betraying those who fought in the struggle against racism.

When Mr. Obama talked about the audacity of hope, he was attempting to breach that barrier and move us beyond it. Celebrating a post-civil rights era and embracing optimism is like a church celebrating the burning of its mortgage.

Celebrating the burning of the mortgage means a barrier and a handicap has been removed. It does not relieve you of the necessity of taking up collections every Sunday, nor does it mean you do not have to engage in fund-raising drives that will take the church’s mission further. Nor does it mean you have answered complaints of all the naysayers.

The Obama message in a post-racial or post-civil rights era is that white people have legitimate grievances as well. What he could have added is that they have a right to raise questions and challenge the application of a racial remedy when they believe it is injurious to them.

In a post-civil rights area they would be able to discuss and debate these issues without being labeled racists. And blacks who celebrate a changed America should be able to stand up and confront the enemy within black America without being called a sellout or an Uncle Tom. In a post-civil rights era the gag rule on internal debate would be removed.

Columnist William Raspberry once noted many of us are like the farmer who came to the creek when the creek — like racism — was running 4 feet high and 20 miles an hour. When he tried to cross, he was swept a mile down the stream. But after the civil rights laws were passed and the racial barriers were moved, he came to the same creek and this time the water was only 6 inches high, and he still refused to cross.

As Bill said, too many people continue to act as if the stream is full because they have good memories but refuse to exercise good judgment. Even recognizing that the stream is not as it was, we keep complaining that when we step in the water we still get muddy or wet.

Neither the drying of the stream nor the election of Mr. Obama can completely solve black America’s problems. Problems driven by poverty need special addressing, not on the basis of skin but on condition. If we keep talking about white villainy, it invites whites not to participate. If we don’t permit white America to become post-racial, then we as blacks can never become post-racial.

Focusing on race and hoping for racial reconciliation will not solve the problems of America. But by joining together to focus on those problems, racial reconciliation is a natural byproduct.

Barack Obama’s message is commendable. My hope is that the Jeremiah Wright or any other controversy will not obscure the importance of that message. No matter the outcome of the election, the dream of a post-racial America needs to prevail.

Robert L. Woodson Sr. is founder and president at the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

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