In Search of Post-Racial America

I have to admit, I was disappointed. After all, to hear lots of folks tell it we are now living in “post-racial America,” all because Barack Obama is to become the nation’s 44th president in a couple of months. So, imagine my surprise when I contacted the labor department, in search of evidence to sustain the post-racial America thesis, only to discover that blacks, Latinos, and indigenous folks are still three times as likely as whites to be poor and twice as likely to be unemployed, and that black men with college degrees were still earning 30% less than their white counterparts–exactly the same as was the case on November 3rd! When they told me that black men with high school diplomas were still more likely to be out of work than white male dropouts, well, I damn near fell out of my seat.

And imagine my shock when, upon contacting the Border Patrol, in an attempt to determine when they would be re-deploying large segments of their force to the Canadian border (since, in a post-racial America, we wouldn’t want to concentrate all our anti-immigrant efforts on brown-skinned folks), my query was met with a laugh, and an assurance that no such redeployment would be taking place.

And imagine how stunned I was upon getting off the phone with a staffer at the Commerce Department, who informed me that, just as was the case prior to November 4, businesses owned by white men were still receiving about 91% of all government contracts. I had argued with him, insisting that surely huge chunks of that money had been redistributed to black and brown-owned firms now that Obama was president-elect, but they stuck to their story. Nope, they promised. Nothing had changed.

Still convinced we were living in a post-racial America (after all, why would they say it on the TV if it weren’t the case?), I hopped in my car and headed out to the suburbs, confident that I would find evidence of our post-raciality in such places as these.

First, I stopped off at the nearest Home Depot, figuring that I would encounter a veritable flood of dark-skinned citizenry, newly relocated to these previously white spaces, and intent on gathering the materials needed for their latest home improvement project. But nope, as far as the eye could see it was white folks with the lumber, and the paint swatches, and the energy-efficient halogen lighting, and the shiny gas grills.

Undaunted, I drove to a brand new subdivision, got out of my car, walked over to one of the just-finished homes, and began scraping little bits of paint from the Hardie-Board siding.

“Hey, what the hell are you doing?” came the angry contractor’s voice from behind me.

Startled, but confident in my mission, I explained myself happily. “Just getting a few paint flecks from the house here,” I offered. “No big deal, you won’t even miss them.”

“What for?” he asked.

“Well, I’m gathering evidence to prove that we’re living in a post-racial America. If it’s true–and I’m sure it is, I mean, look at all the Obama stickers in the neighborhood–then I expect to find really large levels of lead in this paint, just like in urban neighborhoods where most of the residents are poor folks of color!”

“Hey now, whoa, there is no lead in this paint, I assure you,” he spat back, insulted at my insinuation. “In fact,” he continued, “this is hypo-allergenic, non-toxic, recycled, tofu-based paint with absolutely no volatile organic compounds.”

“No VOCs?” I replied. “Ok, but then, if you’re not using any toxic materials for this housing, what are you putting in the hazardous waste incinerator?”

“What hazardous waste incinerator?” he asked, with a screwed-up look on his face.

“Hah,” I answered. “That was almost convincing how you said that. Like you don’t know! Good one.”

The contractor turned around and walked off, acting confused. But I knew there had to be an incinerator around there somewhere. I mean, this is post-racial America! In racial America, pretty much all the waste sites–dumps and incinerators–were in communities of color, and the typical host neighborhood for such sites had twice as many people of color as the typical neighborhood without one. But now, with Obama runnin’ things, I just knew they had started putting some of them out here where the white and more affluent folks lived.

Maybe it’s over in the strip mall, behind the Applebees, I thought to myself, and headed out to uncover the truth.

On my way there, I decided to further test out the post-racial America theory by driving through the bucolic neighborhood real slow-like, bumpin’ some L’il Wayne from the speakers, figuring that in a post-racial America, the local cops would want to pull me over, ask me what I was doin’ out there, maybe search my trunk and throw me across the hood of the car just for fun. Ya know, the way they used to do black men. But strangely, nothing happened. Pure coincidence, I thought to myself. I’m sure that if I had some spinnin’ rims, they’d have stopped me. I mean, damn, this is post-racial America.

About half-way to the Applebees, (aka the incinerator), my car ran out of gas. I had been so excited about unearthing the proof of our new racial nirvana, that I’d forgotten to pay attention to how low the fuel gauge was before I left the city. Upset, but undeterred, I decided to walk over to the busiest intersection and see if I could wave down a taxi. I knew it might be tough, both because there aren’t that many taxis in the ‘burbs, and, let’s face it, in post-racial America, it might prove tough getting a cab when you’re a white guy, but honestly, what choice did I have?

In what I’m sure was just a spot of really good luck, the first cab pulled over.

“To the incinerator please,” I asked.

“The what?” he replied.

“The incinera-” I started to explain, but then I realized that the driver appeared to be a fairly recent immigrant, who spoke somewhat halting English, and maybe wasn’t up on our waste disposal habits here in the states.

“Applebees would be fine, thank you.” I finished.

As we drove I noticed that he had a small Somali flag on his dashboard. Seeing a great opportunity to discuss the whole post-racial thing with a person of color–and a newly-arrived one at that–I took advantage of the opening.

“So, you’re originally from Somalia, huh?” I asked.

“Yes I am,” he replied. “I just came to America five months ago.”

“Wow, great timing!” I shot back.

“What do you mean?” he asked, appearing stumped.

“Well,” I replied, “I mean, you only had to live in racial America for like, half a year–not even–and now, bam, it’s like, we’re all post-racial and stuff. Pretty cool.”

The look on his face suggested he hadn’t gotten the news about our newfound racial ecumenism.

“Oh snap!” I said (because see, in post-racial America, white guys can say things like oh snap and it’s all good), “You hadn’t heard? Oh yeah, hundreds of years of straight-up oppression? Done! Even-Steven! Man, you picked a great time to come. Oh, and are you Muslim?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied, seemingly worried about where I was going with all this.

“That rocks!” I noted. “So, did your flowers get delivered yet?”

“Flowers? What are you talking about?” he asked.

“Oh yeah, see, in the new America, we’ve also moved past that whole religious bigotry thing, and the whole racialization of Muslims thing. Yep, so now, instead of being accused of terrorism, y’all are gonna get a dozen roses each week, and two dozen during Ramadan.”

“Get out of my cab, you’re a crazy man!” the driver shouted.

I felt bad that I’d upset him, but I don’t blame him for thinking I was crazy. He’d probably never heard anyone say “y’all” before.

I walked the rest of the way to the Applebees, and never did find that pesky incinerator. But my time in the burbs wasn’t totally wasted. There was still one more way to prove we were living in a post-racial society, and I intended to take advantage of it.

So I walked into Applebees, and immediately began filling out a job application. See, in the pre-November 4th America, job applicants with white-sounding names were 50% more likely to get called back for an interview than those with black-sounding names, even when their credentials were identical, according to a huge study by economists at MIT and the University of Chicago. But that was ancient history now: so pre-Obama. A newfound confidence washed over me as I put the finishing touches on my app. Yessir, Jamal Washington is ready and willing to be the best damned waiter in Applebees’ entire history!

After getting gas for my car I headed home to check the answering machine, certain that the restaurant’s shift manager would already have called, excited about the chance to hire anyone named Jamal. But there were no messages.

Just then I heard a knock at the door. It was the mail carrier, who informed me that an envelope had fallen out on his route, and since it was addressed to me, he wanted to make sure I got it. It was a little beaten up, but the content was clear. It was a solicitation from a local mortgage lender, encouraging me to take out a sub-prime equity loan.

“Honey, come quick!” I shouted to my wife.

“What is it dear?” she asked in reply.

“See,” I shot back confidently. “I told you we were living in a post-racial America. They’re even pushing predatory loans to white folks now!”

Though my wife is not convinced, I for one am sleeping better at night.

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