Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama

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We are a month into the new administration of Barack Obama, the first Black President of the United States. And while there has been a great deal of celebratory comments on this fact, we can ill afford to be comfortable about the realities surrounding racism in this country. Tim Wise, a long-time anti-racist activist, has just finished a very timely book that warns against becoming comfortable with racism while we are distracted by Obama’s election.

Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama continues the excellent work around the issue of White Privilege that Wise has pounded home in his books, articles, and public talks across the country. This relatively short book was written just after the November 2008 elections and consists of two essays.

In the first essay, Wise raises the issue of whether or not the election of a Black man as the President of the United States demonstrates that racism is no longer a deeply entrenched problem in this country. Wise emphatically responds to that question with a loud “no.” In fact, Wise thinks that the election of Obama could actually allow racism to morph into a more subtle form, what he calls “Racism 2.0.”

“Racism 2.0″ could be manifested in the dominant culture celebrating individual Black achievement, but continuing to ignore or demonize the majority of Blacks and other minorities in the U.S.. Since Obama is articulate, presents himself “well,” and has not as of yet discussed the contemporary problem of racism, people might want to use him as a standard for all other Blacks. Therefore, anyone who makes racism a central part of their critique of America might be more easily dismissed, since the most powerful Black man in America doesn’t appear to have any major problems with it.

Wise supports this notion of “Racism 2.0″ by presenting lots of data and examples of how Blacks and other minorities are still being systematically discriminated against in the areas of housing, health care, education and income. With a Black man occupying the White House will we be less inclined to say that racism is still alive and well in America? Maybe those minorities who make less and don’t go to college do so because of their own inability to make gains in society. These are the potential rationalizations that White society might make now that we are in the age of Obama.

The second essay is entitled “The Audacity of Truth: A Call for White Responsibility.” In this section of the book Wise makes a clarion call to those of us in the White community to take on the responsibility of addressing White privilege and racism, to listen to what people of color have to say, and to be willing to honesty investigate this country’s history as it relates to what White people have done to people of color.

Wise uses the example of what happened to Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Wright, when he chose to challenge and instruct us on this brutal history of White Supremacy. The author believes that we can only achieve racial justice if we honestly come to terms with the past.

Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama closes with a challenge to the White community to also discover and learn from the rich tradition of Whites who made racial justice their cause. From those who fought for abolition to those who participated in the Civil Rights movement, we need to see that White people are also a part of a legacy that has struggle for equality and against racism.

Tim Wise, Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama, (City Lights, 2009).

One comment

  1. Although, Barack Obama’s victory sets precedent for the future it also puts young civil rights activist(like myself) in a hard place.Barack Obama’s victory too many whites and even blacks display the end of racism as we know it in America. A lot of white’s and black’s argue that racism has progressed because we have the first African American President. We can sit in the front of the bus,and eat at similar restaurants as whites that this is a form of equality. But one black success does not unify blacks as a group. History itself cannot be re-written nor can property or feelings be restored. One can even argue that Barack Obama himself is different from the way most blacks live in America. Barack Obama is just as much white as he is black. His Harvard University education is elitist in some forms; Harvard University is not a predominantly white schools and if blacks are accepted the retention rate is very low. Attending schools like this come with a cost and the cost is assimilating into White American Culture. I attend a private school and there are 3(I am one of them) black girls in the graduating class of 2009 and 45 white girls. I have been called a Nigger and even have been called ghetto and seen as threat to the institution because I speak out about racism. These are forms of hatred that will never go away because these exact ideologies lead white people to believe they are better and entitled to more. I told a white teacher I did not believe the Green Movement would pick up momentum and called it a fad. She asked me if slavery was just a fad because people did not see it processing. These are the ignorant teachings that society has not been able to remove. Oprah Winfrey, Conzela Rice,and Colonel Powell were some of the first black people in there professions and have not broken racial barriers (I doubt Obama can as the president). White people will only allow you to be successful if their needs are at the center of your cause. For Oraph’s show is watched by more white women than black. Black women are out being single moms, and working hard.Although, Obama is President it is Congress that also has a determining factor in votes. I read a article the other day and in the cartoon section they depicted a monkey being shot and the caption read that they will have to find someone else to re-write the stimulus bill? A monkey? That just showed me that blacks in America are at the mercy of whites who feel that at any given time if a black man gets to powerful they can take him out! Whites protested when Obama ran for office calling him a threat to the Christian faith and saying they will never vote for a black man. Some blacks in America did not graduate from High School. Obama may be a hero but society will never allow blacks to be able to relate to his success. White people like to think that they are saviors to blacks. Yet it was white that until 1975 still oppressed blacks in America. If you ask a white person if they are racist they will say no! BUT, its much deeper than a yes or no question. It how you begin to unravel and judge blacks as a whole when no one is looking! Obama is a hero too many but just like Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X it will take more than one man!

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