Gold-plated shackles: “post-racial” is wrong and dangerous

As blatant racism has become less acceptable, more and more people have joined the Stephen Colbert “I don’t see race” club. A new study indicates this trend is growing especially amongst young people. A majority of millennials think their generation is “post-racial” and 68% think that “focusing on race prevents society from becoming colorblind.” This is a dangerous attitude that lends itself to ignoring the very real racism that still exists in our society, but can be easier to ignore if you’re not trying to see it.

Attorney General Eric Holder made this point in a recent commencement speech, discussing the racist outbursts of late that have drawn condemnation:

But we ought not find contentment in the fact that these high-profile expressions of outright bigotry seem atypical and were met with such swift condemnation. Because if we focus solely on these incidents – on outlandish statements that capture national attention and spark outrage on Facebook and Twitter – we are likely to miss the more hidden, and more troubling, reality behind the headlines.

These outbursts of bigotry, while deplorable, are not the true markers of the struggle that still must be waged, or the work that still needs to be done – because the greatest threats do not announce themselves in screaming headlines. They are more subtle. They cut deeper. And their terrible impact endures long after the headlines have faded and obvious, ignorant expressions of hatred have been marginalized.

There’s no better way to understand the ingrained racism that exists than to hear directly from the people who struggle against it in their daily lives. Colorlines captures this well in their new series Life Cycles of Inequity: A Series on Black MenKai Wright talks about the impetus for the series, when people asked him about his reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict in the killing of Trayvon Martin:

Over and over, I avoided answering. My challenge wasn’t a lack of thoughts; they just didn’t fit into the narrow space in which we are allowed to consider the stretched lives of black men in America. I suspect a great many of us feel this way. We think about Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis or Oscar Grant—or, if we’re black, likely someone in our family who died early and needlessly—and we are paralyzed by the immense odds those men faced in the first place. We know that their deaths cannot truly be understood without first examining the context of their lives.

The first video above is a heartbreaking piece in which a group of young black men talk about facing the narrow, and often lowered, expectations they encounter and how challenging it can be to break free of them. As a young man named Gabriel poignantly says, “We are in shackles, but they’re just gold-plated.”

Watch the video and follow the whole series over at Colorlines.


Author: Rebecca Griffin

I am a passionate advocate for progressive causes with over a decade of experience organizing for social change. That organizing experience informs the way I look at the world and the challenges we face in working toward social justice. I started Of Means and Ends to write about social issues I care about and share my thoughts on how we organize in a smart, strategic way. Please visit and join the conversation.

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