When I first published these arguments, they produced a maelstrom of controversy. My book came out around the time of the O.J. Simpson verdict, exonerating him for killing his ex-wife, and also the Million Man March on Washington. (Since we lived in the nation’s capital at the time, I prudently skipped town during the weekend of the Million Man March.) So the racial atmosphere in the country was a bit raw, and even some conservatives were unnerved by my claims.
I may have been ahead of my time, but it now seems that I was not wrong. Here we get to the real significance of Obama’s election and his ascendancy to the presidency. Consider the oceans of ink that have been spilled over the past couple of decades about how America is a racist society, how bigotry runs in the veins of white America, how little real progress has been made, how far we still have to go, and so on. A few years ago I debated Jesse Jackson at Stanford University and he couldn’t give any evidence that contemporary racism had kept his children down. At the same time, he said that precisely the absence of evidence is what worried him the most. Jackson’s argument was that racism, once overt, had now become covert. In other words, racism hadn’t decreased in the slightest but it now worked in ever-more-subtle ways to deny African Americans their share of the American dream.
Would anyone who had been drinking this intellectual Kool-Aid for the past several years have been prepared for Obama’s election? True, Obama is no Jesse Jackson. But precisely the difference between the two shows that it is individual conduct and demeanor that is decisive here, not skin color. Obama doesn’t come across as a race-hustler. He doesn’t seek to turn victimization into profit. Rather, he makes his claims on the merits and he appeals to shared American ideals. To borrow a line from Martin Luther King, Obama seeks to be judged not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. And Americans have responded to that, so that King’s dream has become a tangible reality in Obama’s life. “Rational discrimination”? You be the judge.
If Obama’s election means anything, it means that we are now living in post-racist America. That’s why even those of us who didn’t vote for Obama have good reason to celebrate.