The Race to “Post”: Can We Handle Current Business First?

by Guest Contributor Regina Bartlett, originally published at Red Clay Scholar

I’m trying to get into my dissertation grind mode.  I frequently find myself in bookstores and online looking for titles that might possibly help me with my endeavors. As I was glancing through my latest search of books, the term “Post Hip Hop” came up.  I turned my head slightly sideways and said, “que?”

I went ahead and ordered the book and have yet to receive it.  First thought that immediately came to mind while looking at the title: “what the hell is ‘Post Hip-Hop?’” My second question: “why?”

I hope you can feel me on this one, folks.  We are in the post “whatever-the-hell-you-want-here-to-make-it sexy” age.  Postracialism, Postindustrialism, post Hip Hop-ism, Post….Americanism? I have yet to wrap my mind around this concept for a couple of reasons:

1.) The push to live in a post society overlooks the need to identify the experiences, people, and events within America that assisted in its construction.  This  band-aid approach to dealing with those issues and concerns that cloud utopic dreams of equality also dismiss the critical traumatic moments that frame and influence ethnic identity in American society.  Which leads me to my next thought: Post-ism for who? It seems that these campaigns address the erasure of ethnic identity and do not attempt to deconstruct white discourse and normalcy. In other words, it’s the black and brown folks that need to dismiss race as an indicator of identity and lived experience.

bamboozled Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist (1998) has a brilliant scene that challenges these notions of racial privilege, obliviousness, and identity performance. African American elevator inspector Pompeii and his white colleagues are at the company’s annual Christmas Party.  A minstrel show ensues and Pompeii laughs the loudest and hardest, painfully neglecting the ignorance being performed in front of him.  One way to approach this scene is to think of it as “the quiet negro is the safe negro” complex.  Pompeii’s non-reaction indicates a numbness not only to his (lack of) blackness but also his dismissed masculinity.  He is safe and no longer in need of attention because  he simply accepts his position (both racially and within the company’s hierarchy).  Pompeii’s participation in the minstrel show can be seen as a survival move – both to protect his life from his drunken white companions and to save his job so that he can continue to provide for his family.  Spike Lee’s Bamboozled (let’s be real, the MAJORITY of Lee’s catalog) address similar themes of hushed subordination and its consequences on self-identity and blackness.

2) These attempts are rushed.  Now, one of the post-movements that makes complete sense is Post-colonialism because it reflects the struggle and need to address a previously embattled people and the residue influences of their (often European) oppressors on social-cultural interaction. Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Chinua Achebe, and more recently Vijay Prashad acknowledge and explore the racial divide often motivated by colonial rule.

In American society, our celebration of reaching post-dom is a trend, a fad that is often embodied in distinct “moments” of racial harmony and bliss (or such intentions).  Take, for example, the civil rights legislation of the 1950s and 1960s. With the ruling of racial segregation as unconstitutional, legislation was put into place for incorporation into American social practice to ban the racial inferiority complex.  What was not taken into consideration was the fact that social practice does not change overnight.  Racial attitude and interpretation is so deeply embedded into our fiber that racial profiling is second nature.  The election of President Barack Obama also seems to coincide with the initiation of postracial America. Right. We do not simply have another president. This time we have a  president who is so scrutinized that he has to hide any brotha tendencies (lol).

To play that girl, I’ll take the bait and entertain the idea that we are in a post-racial America.  What I will NOT accept, however, is that we are colorblind. As I stated in a previous post, Prashad’s astute observations that American society refuses to face color in an effort to present a monolithic American society and, perhaps more importantly, a monolithic ethnic American community, will prove detrimental to our progression as a nation.

Instead of becoming a “clear” community with no indications of race, wouldn’t a more proper definition of post-racial be the acknowledgment of ethnic identity sans the bias behind those associations?