The Delusion of “Post-Race”

This term gets floated around a lot. Post-race. Post-racial. It’s clearly a reactionary term. To actually believe in it as a fundamental standpoint is totally ludicrous.

It’s on my mind at the moment because I just read Amiri Baraka’s excoriating response to the anthology Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American LIterature. Baraka essentially points to the delusion inherent in trying to erase an entire sector of lived experience for somehow harming or reducing the artistic merit of work produced by non-white artists. I say non-white because only “white” artists are allowed be “free” from history and society. “Whiteness” doesn’t have a “history.” That’s why it tries to destroy everyone else’s. But that is a blog post for another day.

POST-RACE only exists when “race” ceases to operate as a structural framework for exclusion, limitation, and oppression. To pretend it doesn’t have power doesn’t make it go away. Artists often turn to the aesthetic or formal as a way of distancing themselves from the social and material, which I personally think is delusional. Ignoring your body doesn’t make it go away. It makes it wither and sicken.

I call race a consensual fiction, but that DOESN’T mean that I think the way to transform it is to ignore it. I call it a consensual fiction because the differences that “race” brings into legibility actually aren’t fundamental differences at all.

Baraka is a spitfire intellectual who has provoked on many occasions. I, for one, am a fan.

As an “Asian American” author, these sorts of questions are always on my mind. To be “Asian American” is always a question of being. HOW am I what I am being right now? This is a constant negotiation between me, my environment, and my social context. History runs through and around me always. I am never just “me.” How to channel all these things into something fundamentally different is my constant challenge.

I love poetry for how it can model alternatives in thought. To read a poem is to have your brain potentially rewired. As a social phenomenon, though, poetry also exhibits society’s best and worst symptoms. These sorts of debates — of grouping and privileging, of distancing and differentiating — these are power plays.

Let’s be Real. Actual. True.

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