Breaking News: Obama’s Arizona School Visit— Pot Calls Kettle Black (No Pun?)

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Since I wrote Et tu America?: Race, Trayvon, and Education, I have had several discussions with friends about race.

The first conversation was with a former high school classmate on Twitter.

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His point was that we should ignore race because we are all the same. Essentially a post-racial argument. I agree with with Chad. I do believe that our DNA is all the same. However, discussing and seeking to remedy the inequities persist along racial lines in the United States requires the vigilance that Desmond Tutu once spoke of:

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Desmond Tutu

I believe the price of equality is also eternal vigilance. By ignoring the inequities that persist along racial lines, we allow them to continue to occur and empower those that are not so enlightened and “post-racial.”

Another friend of mine said to me recently that it was racist of me to post news articles on my Facebook that point out racism in schools and society. I was befuddled (great word huh?). I responded that addressing and discussing race was not racist. He also said: “Blacks are more racist than Whites.” I rolled my eyes. Maybe it is just me, but it seems to be becoming more and more common for Americans with negative racial attitudes to accuse non-racist (and people of color) of being racist for pointing out racial inequities. MLK once said:

We who in engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. Martin Luther King 

Speaking of post-racial.

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Obama (who represents our current post-racial society!?) recently visited Desert Vista High School in Phoenix. Arizona’s struggles with race is well documented, from segregated charter schools to Sheriff Arpaio‘s alleged racial profiling to the ban of Mexican American studies in high schools. An opinion piece on CNN weighed on some of the Arizonans that welcomed him.

The political culture in Arizona, my home state, is often coarse, racialized and divisive. President Barack Obama’s visit there Tuesday gave the world another opportunity to see it. At times it seems as though the most bigoted individuals in America’s 48th state save their most raucous and prejudiced behavior for the 44th president.

The Arizona Republic reported that hundreds of dissenters chose to model their insulting and extremist behavior before some of Phoenix’s youngest residents. Assembled outside Desert Vista High School, they mocked Obama’s race, singing “Bye Bye Black Sheep” in spirited synchronization. One “patriot” went so far as to deprecate our commander in chief by pronouncing him “47 percent Negro,” while another, Deanne Bartram, held a sign that read, “Impeach the Half-White Muslim!”

One of the most disturbing aspects of the anti-Obama protest was the inclination of some participants to fault the president for increased racial tensions. “We have gone back so many years,” Judy Burris told the Republic, insisting that Obama’s presence and policies have engendered a racist backlash. “He’s divided all the races. I hate him for that.”

This mind-bending perspective has become one of the leitmotifs of the racialized anti-Obama movement, which laments regressive race relations, but which attributes increased racial tensions in Obama’s “disruptive” and “exotic” presence, rather than their own racial stereotypes, hateful rhetoric and divisive behavior. Despite myriad efforts to foster civil dialogue in Arizona, the state has proven to be fertile ground for the kind of chauvinistic crusading that greeted Obama this week.

The rowdy gathering outside Desert Vista underscored the nature of race relations in the Obama age — evolving but oddly static in some ways — and the particularly bigoted shades of anti-Obama emotion in Arizona. If the age of Obama prophesied a more progressive, multifaceted and refined dialogue about American race relations, the vision has not been realized. Rather, many Americans, particularly xenophobic cliques such as the ones on display in my state, have recoiled back to a pre-civil rights-era temperament and increasingly overt racist outbursts.

As brazen as those in the Desert Vista crowd were, they are merely the most belligerent and public face of a legion of racist anti-Obama persons. These more discreet individuals are smart enough to cloak their racialized opposition in obstructionist maneuvering and public policy that does more damage to the lives of people of color than prejudiced banter.

To conclude, one more MLK quote…

No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Martin Luther King

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Categories: African Americans, Breaking News, Wisdom

Author:Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin.

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2 Comments on “Breaking News: Obama’s Arizona School Visit— Pot Calls Kettle Black (No Pun?)”

  1. PQ
    August 9, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    Very interesting article. It reminds me of WEB Dubois’ words, “and yet the swarthy spectre sits in its accustomed seat at the Nation’s feast.”

  2. jjr
    August 12, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    the potentially greatest fear of those who perpetrate racism as well as those who deny its diffusion is that it will be imposed upon them with the same vitriolic ignorance with which they practice it. ( personal insight from a white sexagenarian female secondary ed teacher & adjunct prof. who has always believed that compromising ‘common good’ values to bridge a gap is a futile path.)

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