Monday, March 29, 2010

Taking the easy way out

At the end of Professor Hao Huang's lecture on March 11, he made a comment that we don't live in a post-racial society, and that jazz and blues music helps to highlight the tensions and hope of living in a racial society. After the build-up during the lecture with his emotion regarding Louis Armstrong and his immense talent, this was a climactic ending, for sure, but beyond that, one of his points struck a chord with me; the bit about not living in a post-racial society, to be specific. I've thought some on my own about the concept of being "color-blind" versus tolerant and open-minded, and which is better, but I've never tackled the concept of living in a post-racial society. I hesitated making a claim about the intricacies of "color-blindness" because I felt I didn't have much to lose. On the surface, the only thing that identifies me as the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants is my name; however, I feel that we all have a stake in how we define our society, and whether or not we can call ourselves "post-racial."

During the election and inauguration period of President Obama, there was much talk of America as a "post-racial" society. Many said that with the election of a Black president, we as a nation could finally move past the issue of race and live in a society free of color bias, and while this sounds lovely and utopian in concept, I think it's unrealistic and unfair. The incarceration rate of blacks is six times as much as it is for whites, and public school system is a perfect example of de facto segregation. Not much changed in the ways our society treats minorities with the election of President Obama, we just say it has. This is hardly post-racial. This is taking the easy way out. Race in our society has become somewhat of a dirty word. President Obama made one statement and one statement only during his campaign about race (we read it in class - incidentally, he doesn't necessarily advocate for a post-racial society, rather a society that chooses to come together with an understanding of race and the place it has, and has had, in our country), and the politics involved in critiquing race in the campaign were complicated, and at the very least, racially driven. The sensitivity involved in this process proves that there still is a thing known as race-relations in this country, and that race still matters in the minds of people. I think people like Jay-Z, when making the claim that "There is no such thing as black music" ( are over-simplifying and not choosing to look at the intricacies of our society. Former President Carter spoke out in September 2009, saying, "I think people that are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by the belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African-American," ( These kinds of comments spark outrage, yet, in my opinion, they are closer to the truth about our society than those more similar to Jay-Z's.

The desire to move past a racial society and into an era of post-racial living is understood, and even though I feel like erasing race in our society would be a loss to the minutiae of our joint culture and histories, I feel, first and foremost, that it is too soon to claim that the time of post-racial society has arrived. If we do this, then we can't fully and objectively evaluate and solve the problems in our society directly tied to race. Problems such as incarceration rates, poverty and unemployment, schools and education and housing and urban development. These things aren't going to go away by claiming that life is good, and that race is irrelevant. Doing so lets us to not face the unappealing truths we share about our society and race; it lets us take the easy way out. And this makes jazz and blues music all the more relevant. We need a place in our society that acknowledges race, and pain and struggle and hope. And that's what this music can do.

Here are some more articles/opinion pieces that I read when constructing this post:

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