Thursday, March 26, 2009

This Is "Post-Racial" America?

I'm going to speak briefly about race today. Race is one of those third-rail topics that I usually don't like to discuss, because one is constantly in danger of offending someone. However, the issue has come up a couple of times this week, and in both cases, I think it signals a change in the way we will be dealing with it in the future.

Earlier this week, during his news conference, President Obama downplayed the importance of race as an immediate issue while he tried to grapple with the difficult economy, saying the issues facing the country "affect black, brown and white", and that he will be judged on whether he was a competent president, not merely as a black president.

President Obama is in a difficult situation. He is correct in his assertion that he needs to be the leader for ALL of the people, but he is also clearly riding on the hopes and expectations of a Black America that is counting on him to bring their concerns to the forefront.

Just a day after Mr. Obama's comments, the National Urban League issued a statement calling on the President to close the disparity gap that blacks face in areas including education and prison time. President Marc Morial wrote, "The election of the first black president does not mean we can now all close up shop and go home."

And now an issue of race strikes closer to home, in the District of Columbia, where Mayor Adrian Fenty is proposing to demote "Emancipation Day" - April 16th - from being a paid city holiday to a non-paid holiday. The move would save the city 1.3 million doillars a year in holiday pay - enough to keep 23 full-time city workers employed.

Some members of the city council are up in arms, saying it's important to recognize the day that President Lincoln freed the city's slaves in 1862. Mind you, the holiday itself is only four years old, and there is little evidence to support the notion that anyone is celebrating the day as anything more than an extra day off of work.

Mayor Fenty and President Obama face similar political problems here. Both have faced frequent "litmus test" questions about their own racial identities - questions about whether they are "black enough". Both men have white parents, and both are trying to rise above their racial identities as they lead their broader constituencies. It's almost as if they both need to "have their cake and eat it, too" on the issue of race.

I can't begin to offer input on what the President should do on this topic. Frankly, as long as the economy is sour, he'll have that as a shield to protect him against having to seriously address race or many other issues.

But I do have a piece of advice for Mayor Fenty. Money is tight. Your constituents are probably not too thrilled to see city workers enjoy yet another paid holiday that they themselves don't get to enjoy. If Emancipation Day is so important, choose another paid holiday to be given up in exchange. I would suggest Columbus Day. Christopher Columbus' star has faded in recent years, and there are few longheld links between the city government and Columbus. It almost seems as though the day exists as a holiday in the city because federal workers already have it off.

I know there's been a lot of hope that the election of President Obama will bring us to a "post-racial" America.

Yeah. Good luck with that.

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