“I, the man of color, want only this: That the tool never possess the man,” wrote Franz Fanon in his post-colonial opus, Black Skin, White Masks. Sixty-three years after its publication, Fanon’s words are precise, poignant and prophetic, articulating the process by which black and brown Americans are no longer simply victims of racism, but also tools deployed by post-race leaders to advance and expand that ideology. It is a mythical ideology made even more absurd by the swelling of institutional racism, and the symptoms of police brutality, violence and protest unraveling on our screens in Ferguson and New York City, and on the ground everywhere else in America.
The rising racism in America has impacted the discourse around it. In light of recent racial crises, the element that peddles the “post-race America” myth is shifting its strategy, and mutating the shape of its public image. Veering from the tradition of positioning whites as the visible leadership, this element is increasingly deploying prominent black and brown faces to carry forward the “post-race America” banner.
Why is this concerning? In light of protests in Ferguson, a still developing police state, and the string of black men and boys killed by police without indictment, a growing number of middle class and affluent whites are beginning to accept that racism is not only very real, but ripe. As a result, seasoned white pundits that champion the “end of racism” phase ushered in by the election of President Obama are resonating less with a number of demographics within the white population, particularly youth and young adult generations mobilized by the protest culture emerging on social media and on the ground in America.
Despite racist realities made more stark by Ferguson, the still rising tide of Islamophobia, and the xenophobic backlash to President Obama’s immigration action, “post-race” proponents are still keen on capturing support within communities of color in addition to their base. Black and brown advocates of the post-race myth, while valuable in days past, are now indispensable. Structural racism, racial violence, and the state’s and society’s shared rage toward communities of color, and specifically blackness, cannot be hidden. Social media, citizen journalism, and the undeniable impact the two have on what mainstream media covers has nakedly exposed still rising racism on our television and computer screens.
The rhetoric that our nation is post-racial is belied by a new American tapestry of racist images: a slain eighteen year old Mike Brown left on the street, face down, for four hours; an unarmed Eric Garner choked and wrestled to the ground, then swarmed by several New York City policeman before his life was taken; the killing of seven-year old Aiyana Jones, all stitched together by a legal system that exonerated their killers.
This dissonance, or stark divide between post-race rhetoric and racist realities, makes native informant proponents of “post-race America” ever more vital for two reasons. First, positioning black and brown voices to echo that “racism is a relic of the past” is far more persuasive a source than the standard white messenger. For white viewers, a native informant pushing the post-race line offers first-hand authenticity, and an experiential expertise white messengers lack.
Second, black and brown post-race mercenaries leverage their racial affinity and familiarity as currency within their respective communities. Whereby white supporters are stunted by these factors, native informants are able to penetrate communities of color, peddle the post-race message, and mobilize supporters.
Native informants, like Charles Barkley, Don Lemon, Zuhdi Jasser, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and throngs of black and brown voices proclaiming that “this is not about racism” will not only convince and solidify the white base, but also bring in to the fold middle and upper class black and brown elements that similarly place personal gain over principle, and careers over community.
The rise of native informants, and the direct and collateral damage they incur on black and brown communities, serves two long reigning masters: the maintenance of white supremacy and deeply embedded racism, and the gatekeepers of power that benefit from them. Furthermore, their emergence also comes at a time where black and brown advocacy organizations are at their nadir, making poor black and brown communities – particularly in urban spaces – ever more vulnerable to state-sponsored violence and racism.
From Ferguson to border towns, community mosques to city streets, the post-race myth has been exposed by a series of events that illustrate that America is as racist as ever. Indeed, racism remains. Only the tools change. From this flashpoint onwards, the most damaging tools will increasingly be faces and voices that hail from communities under threat. The tools and victims were once segregated, but as racism proliferates and the post-race rhetoric pronounces in America, they will become integrated and interchangeable.