A New America in the Age of Two Term Obama(?), Lorraine Hansberry and the Social Meaning of Race
So this past week we all voted and made the decision to re-elect Barack Obama. (Woot-Woot!) However, now that he is re-elected I am lead to think about two things. The first: how will those of us who care about the issues of the poor put pressure on the president to make it a priority on his agenda? (Read Accountability) The second: how will we continue to understand race in the age where a Black president is elected into office (twice)? When many begin to decipher the social meaning of race in the United States they feel as though they must delve into theory, ideology, and praxis. However, to examine race I need not go any further than my own experience as a racialized body in this world. While some may not have been forced to think about the social, political, economic, or cultural meaning of race, I—on the contrary—had no choice. That is to say, I am a Black man. And even though those words seem so simply written into this blog, that reality becomes a lens unto how I see the world and how the world inevitably sees me. This is a lens that still makes me nervous to pass a white person on my university campus at night, because they far too often are afraid. A reality and lens that makes me code switch into a particular vernaculars when I’m mentoring black youth in inner city Chicago versus interning downtown at a foundation. This is a lens and reality that has made me hyper-conscious about how I live my life. This includes thinking (daily) about how I wear my hair, how I dress or present my self in any public forum, and how I interact with my classmates, colleagues, professors, ect. As we all know from this last presidential race, Barack Obama has some of the same tensions with how engages with the world.
While examining how race is conceptualized in the American context, you will find a bi-polarized system. There are two dominating spheres of understanding that must be delineated in order to enter into a dialogue about race. There are several academic undertakings of these two spheres, however, I believe Lorraine Hansberry can offer a more creative and welcoming introduction with her play titled Les Blancs. The tension between the two defining characters of the play— Tshembe Matoseh and Charlie Morris— highlight the two spheres which are often the foundation on which the social significance of race is formed. A short excerpt from the play will help define these two spheres:
Charlie: Oh for Christ’s Sake, man! “Imperialism” Cant we, even for fives minutes throw away yesterdays catchwords?! The sacrifice that these people—
Tshembe: Sacrifice! There you see, it is impossible! You come thousands of miles to inform us about “yesterdays catchwords?” Well, it is still yesterday in Africa, Mr. Morris, and it will take a million tomorrows to rectify what has been done here.
Here we can see the inception of an ideological dichotomy. This is a concept that has been split into a polarized method of comprehending race. In the first sphere we have Morris who wants to move past history and differentiate himself as an individual separate from the white racists. In the second sphere we have Tshembe who asserts that we cannot move past history, as he believes it impacts everything that is happening in the present. Tshembe is also concerned with the collective, taking into account the whole of Africa, when rebutting Morris’ request to disengage with the history of imperialism. In these two characters we are able to locate the two paradigms that shape how an American populace considers race.