Recently, a lecture on race was held in a mock courtroom at Harvard Law School, comprised of guest panelists with backgrounds ranging from radio and media to religion and African American studies. Intrigued by a forum that debated whether or not America was in a “post-racial” era, I attended — frankly, I was curious about what “post-racial” even meant.
The stage was set by Ron Sullivan, a Harvard law professor who posed a question: Is the fact that someone newly arrived to America would find a black U.S. president an assurance that race is no longer a barrier to social parity in America?
Despite perceived equalities, the panel was quick to paint a different picture, one in which places like the Cabrini-Green housing development in Chicago and Southeast Washington, D.C., epitomize the poverty and despair of people of color. It may be contrary to what that newcomer might see, but it’s every bit a reality to those who live it.
This reality is not unfamiliar to people of color in Boston and is sadly shared by many other U.S. urban areas, suggesting that work remains to address racial disparities in America. Given that, asking “are we post-racial” may confound and confuse agendas that attempt to secure the needs of all.
An appropriate language to capture the plight of the poor was proposed to express and help frame an agenda that included bolstering black media, dealing with the lack of political engagement, breaking through the political status quo, recognizing that many problems are economic in nature, making clear distinctions between institutional structures that are not inclusive, stifling attitudes that undermine accountability or responsibility, and recognizing that the dreams of the poor are common to all Americans.
How do we constructively talk about things we know still need work, where our differences yield to the revelation that our values are shared? Is this discussion worth having? Is the discussion too contentious? Are we afraid we’ll open old wounds?
In the age of Obama, can we express what unites us rather than what divides us? We all believe a post-racial America is possible — but how do we achieve that milestone?