Ferguson, Obama, and Postracial America
It would be too simplistic and superficial to assert that what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri, the Show-Me state of America, proves that the era of Postracialness either never started or is over. The safest conclusion that can drawn from the unrest in that small town of Middle America is that Obama’s America is reeling from its orrnamemtalism, to use a term coined by David Cannadine, and from the illusions of identity, which it is contributing to equal to destiny.
The death of Michael Brown, the following protests, the outrage and the poignant calls for justice that are more about history and its hold on the American experience, the clashes, the backlash, the curfew, the police’s reaction and at last its attempt to put a black face on its incompetence by its use of Captain Ronald Johnson as its spokesman and to justify an unfortunate death by criminalization of the youth shot are symptoms of American racialism, its addiction to glitz, fritz and bad ideas, and its puppy love for impotent symbols designed to solve its essentialist and equality issues.
None of these events is new. The narratives are familiar. The story or rather stories have already been written. They will lead to the same comfortable and same dead end for the beliefs are sacralized. Discourse will be sterile between the America of Ta-Nehisi Coates, which is going to point to the gunshot wounds of the dead and history to preach in the wilderness for reparations and for change that they are still waiting for, and the one of Shelby Steele, which is going to point to the present, the tape of Michael Brown allegedly shoving a store clerk and insist on personal responsibility.
The real dialogue on race, which Eric Holder called for at the beginning of his attorney generalship, is impossible for two reasons. The first is all sides want to be listened to as they lecture the other on what it has meant or not meant to be black in America. The second reason is more troublesome and complex: Race in America is no longer about race but about identity and Americans’ refusal to acknowledge that its passion for absolute freedom and power make absolute justice impossible while making the quest of equality of the working poor or struggling middle class, a lot of which are assumed to be born bad, problematic.
Thus, America has been, in a sense, postracial since its founding by a few white males. Ferguson, Missouri is just a remainder that blackness is an exotic illusion and a dangerous essentialist and flawed notion which cannot soften America’s iron fist. Michael Brown died in Obama’s America which loves to get riled up with beautiful and moving speeches but always comes up short when the call for action isn’t to do something symbolic as electing a multiracial president. Obama’s America is a country which is an addict. It is heavily dependent on the bling whether it is political, social and material and its crack cocaine is hope because it makes it believe that it can be saved by one man and the absolutely appalling and cheap notion that we are the ones that we have been waiting for as if change were a lottery or about finding Jesus.
Whether America and Americana want to admit it or not, they are the one making history now and to use a quote from René Char which Hannah Arendt loved to use, notre héritage n’est précédé d’aucun testament (our inheritance was left to us by no testament). Obama’s presidency has provided at least one wonder for America and the world: it has shown that people with black DNA and non-whites are not just impotent tools of history or sacrificial lambs to be used to fix the rotten and prevent the festering and the explosion of long deferred dreams. Obama has shown that a person and a country aren’t what they say they are or what history and experience say they ought to be but what they do.
It was, thus, always naive and suicidal to believe that a president and a country with a problematic use of power could understand and do what it takes to make sure that the shooting of an unarmed youth whether it is a crime or an unfortunate accident not become just another deal in. America’s long and perilous cycle with its history of violence and essentialism and its unwillingness to change paralyzed by the fear that it would kill its exceptionalism.
In short, there is in all Americans including me a Dinesh D’Souza and he is more difficult to fight than the smartest and fiercest of demons.