I was thinking overnight more about the issues of race in the USA, in their ‘post-racial’ age ushered in by the election of Mr. Obama. I recalled a story I read earlier the month in passing and decided to follow it up a little.
It involved a case of about 70 African-American children at a summer camp in Philidelphia whose camp had arranged to use a private pool once a week for the summer. The private pool had decided to advertise for just such situations, and, as I understand it made similar arrangements with two other summer camps. However when this group of African-American children arrived for their first day, at this mostly White private pool, the parents of the White children pulled them out of the pool, complaints were made to management about the pool being ‘overcrowded’, and the camp was refunded their money and told not to come back. The camp was originally not given any explanation, but the manager, a Mr. Duesler, stated that “there was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club”.
It’s at that point that I’m sure many readers will be saying ‘WTF?’ – I certainly was.
Now, the mostly White membership of the pool have come out and said that there has been a misunderstanding, that this has nothing to do with race. They claim that it’s all about the pool being overcrowded and that they weren’t consulted about opening up the pool to summer camps.
What strikes me as surprising is why they didn’t kick up a fuss earlier when the two mostly White summer camps came by to use the pool. For example, twelve days before this situation 80 mostly White children (there were two non-Whites) used the pool. No problem apparently. What is even more disturbing is some of the comments left on the various sites of the NBP Philadelphia site that has written on this issue.
I think it is important to just mention that the pools manager is a Democrat and a big supporter of President Obama (see this on his community blood-banking drive for Obama‘s inauguration for example).
To me this kind of links in to some of the recent criticism that has been levelled at President Obama for his comments on the arrest of Professor Gates, and even beyond that in his campaigns frantic effort to distance itself from his former Pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
At this point I think it’s necessary for me to repeat once again that this blog did not support Mr. Obama’s campaign. I criticised him for avoiding the race question that haunts the USA, and furthermore as being little more than a superficial change and nothing more when it comes to US imperialism and ‘business as usual’. I still stand by that position.
Having said that, as mentioned, one of my key concerns with Mr. Obama’s election, reflected so much in Bermuda’s blogs, and echoed by comments from US citizens studying here with me, was that his election marked for them a post-racial age in the USA. Afterall, how can one claim that the USA is still inherently racist when they could elect a Black man? After his election I grew sick of seeing people patting themselves on the back for proving that the US had beaten racism, and then parroting Bill Cosby’s pound-cake speech about the need for African-Americans to stop blaming the system for their failings. This of course has since been amplified by statements from the new US Attorney General, Mr. Holder, and extended to the problems of Africa with President Obama’s speeches there.
I need to make it clear that I do not dispute that agency, in as much as this means personal responsibility, is A factor in seeking change, both in the context of institutional racism and systematic international dependency. However agency can only do so much and it is a mistake to focus on it to the exclusion of the structure within which agency is both shaped and operates within (even as agency affects the structure as well).
President Obama’s election saw the rise (even in Bermuda’s blogs) of people drawing a line between an ‘angry Black Old Guard’ (a la Jeremiah Wright) and the ‘intelligent, educated Black New Guard’ (a la Barack Obama). The difference between the two is basically that the ‘Good Black’ is someone who sidesteps the question of race, who doesn’t bring it up, and, what is more, is almost indistinguishable from middle and upper class White America in values, education and bearing. In other words, White, but with Black skin. The ‘Bad Blacks’ however, they keep talking about the institutional racism that haunts the US and how we need to talk about it, bring it into the open, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to do so, because that is the only way to really tackle the problem.
In other words, the Good Blacks don’t threaten the comfort of White America – they let White America pat themselves on their backs and say, ‘see, we’re not racists – I like Oprah/Obama/Cosby’. Bad Blacks do the opposite. They challenge this White American fiction that racism ended with the end of segregation, that electing a Black man to the presidency proves that the USA is no ‘post-racial’.
Whenever President Obama ignores the issue of race in the USA he is lauded by Whites as a promoting unity, of being positive, of rebuilding the USA. He is a ‘Good Black’. Whenever he touches on race, no matter how lightly, he is attacked for being negative, for being divisive. He becomes a ‘Bad Black’.