I’m having my students read excerpts of The Race Card by Richard Thompson Ford a Law professor at Harvard. Good read, but here’s an exceptionally thought provoking passage. He’s describing the notion of a “post-racist” society.
Like “postmodern” or “postcolonial,” the prefix in post-racist doesn’t suggest the demise of what it modifies—in this case racism. Instead, post” suggests a sort of supernova late stage of racism in which its contradictions and excesses both cancel out and amplify its original intent.
Although we can quibble with the “late stage” characterization, I find it an accurate way to think of how racism is practiced in today. Post-racism indulges in racist stereotypes while at the same time not engaging the moral dimensions of racism. In practice, you can engage in all the racism you want as long as you are being ironic about it.
Here’s Thompson articulation of a post-racist worldview:
she doesn’t really think of her black friends as “black,” and she means it. She also freely indulges in the black stereotypes our culture has on offer: hip-hop’s image of the black thug, the black pimp, the black drug dealer, the black crack whore, the black hustler. The post-racist is free to be explicitly and crudely bigoted because he does so with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Thompson’s work makes me think of Dave Chappelle. I have to admit to being one of the legions of admirers of Chapelle’s “Rick James” impression despite it’s racist and sexist subtext. But at the same time, I understand that I’m complicit in perpetuating racist stereotypes by watching the show. I can justify it by saying we’re having a collective national laugh at the absurdity of race, but at the same time, we lack the outrage that contemporary racism should instill in us.