In celebration of Black History Month, last week the University of Illinois at Chicago sponsored a seminar on the topic: “Post Racial Society.” The question: in the wake of the election of President Barack Obama, have we in the United States entered a post-racial society?
Absolutely not, came the resounding answer from the panel, nearly all academics — except for Ytasha Womack, author of Post Black: How a New Generation is Redefining African American Identity. Womack ventured that while we are not post-racial, we are post black. Just as she did in her book, Womack argued that there are complex substrata of black identity, making it ever more difficult to arrive at consensus about the “black” position on many issues.
Noting the continued high incarceration rates and high unemployment rates among African Americans, the panelists argued that these are evidence of continued racism. Even now that so many black people have achieved significant positions of power — the U.S. presidency no less — there has been negligible impact on lower-income blacks.
On a panel of six speakers, Womack and others had little time to differentiate any opinions. But Womack’s puzzlement about the resistance to admit to some progress even amidst the continued bad news of racism drew the most reaction. Nothing huge, but definitely some mild resistance.
“Come on,” she insisted. A couple of years ago, the idea that there would some day be a black president of the United States was considered nearly impossible, now it’s a reality. She speculated about concerns among black folks that if you talk about progress you aid and abet those who argue that there is no more racism; that we are indeed in a post-racial society.
Womack didn’t have time to linger after the panel discussion. She was off to New York. It would have been good to have a chance to hear how the audience, mostly students, reacted to her ideas about the dynamics of changing race identity.
Womack and her book are definitely interesting additions in the ongoing debate about race — and racism — in America.