Becoming a Whole Nation
A year ago, Americans were full of pride at having elected an African American president. For a moment, people across the political spectrum were celebrating the breakthrough.
But any thought that we had vanquished racism was short-lived. Since the inauguration, race has re-emerged as a wedge issue, threatening to stymie a progressive agenda, galvanize the Right, undercut the aspirations of people of color, and divide poor and working class people of all colors.
The history of the United States is littered with examples of race being used to divide natural allies and block progress. Race was used to keep white indentured servants from making common cause with African slaves following the multiracial Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. In the early 1900s, Hawaiian plantation owners hired replacement workers of one ethnic background to break strikes by workers of a different background. In the 1940s, southern Democrats killed Harry Truman’s health care reform fearing it could lead to integration of the health care system.
Racial fears were used to pass draconian sentencing laws that subject thousands of black and brown young adults to long prison terms, enriching the prison-industrial complex while impoverishing communities and schools. Today, coded racial language is used to divert populist anger at Wall Street into spurious attacks on immigrants.
This issue of YES! Magazine asks how we can resist that sort of fear mongering and instead embrace a new American identity that includes all the races and cultures that make up our country.
I started work on this issue excited to imagine a society with less of the fear, hostility, violence, and hopelessness that racism causes. And I wanted to learn how cross-race organizing—like the mobilization that elected Barack Obama—can build the political clout needed to take on our social and political challenges, including the institutions and practices that marginalize people of color.
But as we talked with the contributors and advisors for this issue, it became clear that the potentials of a post-racist society are much greater than we had imagined. The articles in this issue show possibilities for:
- A strengthened sense of community where diversities of all sorts are valued.
- Enhanced self-respect, as many experienced when the Obama campaign called out our potential for greatness.
- Enrichment of music, theater, film, spoken word, and other art forms that draw on the wide range of cultures that now comprise the United States.
- Cities and schools that welcome all people.
- New leadership from people of all races, able to draw on their respective sources of cultural and ancestral wisdom.
There are some extraordinary people working to make a vision of a just, inclusive society a reality. Some of them are featured in this issue (special thanks to our panelists who also advised us on this issue and authored several of the articles. Read the panel).
Of course, we will never achieve a post-racial utopia. We will always be imperfect at understanding people different from ourselves. What we can do, though, is commit ourselves to building a society that is consciously inclusive at every turn. The visionaries and activists of all colors in this issue have given me renewed hope about the path to what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the “beloved community.”
Sarah van Gelder wrote this piece for America: The Remix, the Spring 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is executive editor for YES! Magazine.
Interested? Our Future as a Multiracial Society: A racially just, inclusive, and loving society is possible, says a YES! Magazine panel of visionaries.
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