Reading culture by covers: Time put Obama on the cover for 13th time this year in a special Inauguration Preview, at left. In 2008 political themes were on the cover 19 times at Time and only one movie star was on the cover (George Clooney). Newsweek had 26 cover stories on politics last year -- including two on Michelle Obama.
How to fix our world and our problems requires the mojo of a rock star, the heft of a pope, the cojones of a king, and the uuummmph of an underdog - soft power, hard power, social power and political power. The cultural yearnings cut across the currents here and this proliferation of the O-man everywhere isn't just the hope for a leader to fix our problems, but also, and perhaps more significantly, a mirror to our (post-white) selves.
WaPo notes this media trend: "Once, making the covers of Time and Newsweek was an event. Now... it is more of a cultural blip, one more bit of data in a crowded marketplace." I disagree. Covers are a huge visual graphic of our society, with a date. This obsession with Obama continues, because we're no longer black and white but nuanced.
Our great hope is a reflection of ourselves, an about face, a media vuelta, a volte-face. No longer a Great White Hope, we need a revision of our identity.
Atlantic Monthly's Jan/Feb issue cover featuring a full-face frame of Obama, and series of articles raises the issue of our post-white world (links to all of these good articles on the flip). I was in Houston when whites became the minority there in the mid-1990s. The 1990 Census for the first time allowed respondents to check more than one box for race. For my Oklahoma friends who had long carried Indian blood, this was a long-awaited move to recognize our mixed heritage. But yet the talk of race, in terms of who are we, continues. Frank Rich says we're not post-white in his article this week White Like Me. My mother sends me an email with the subject line: I Am Not A Racist! talking about Leonard Pitt's recent op ed article wondering what Abraham Lincoln would think of Obama's presidency: "Lincoln famously said in 1858 that "there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which ... will forever forbid the two races living together upon terms of social and political equality." I've called my parents down for politically incorrect behavior. We're in new times, but they've not been named. Post-White?
I've just been wondering, for quite awhile, how come Obama, who is half white, is considered Black, not White? When will we have a new term for our gumbo-ness? When will race not matter?
About a year ago I thought we were primed for a revision of our national identity. We're a fluid nation, always remaking ourselves. I wandered last fall through the Spanish Colonial holdings in the Denver Museum of Art and stood for a long time before the drawings from several centuries ago that try to define and name the progeny of different racial mixtures that the Spanish in power were dealing with as mixtures took place. Defining ourselves is nothing new. In fact, anthropologists tell us that only 6% of our differences are attributed to race. I just finished Captives & Cousins by James F. Brooks, about slavery, kinship, and community in the southwest borderlands.
Anyway, here are the Jan/Feb 2009 Altantic Monthly links on Post-White:
1. Are We Post-White? Culturally we are and demographically we will be.
The End of White America
2. Does Race Matter? Marc Ambinder writes in the Atlantic's Race Over?
4. White America Reacts
The Census Bureau’s decision to allow Americans to check more than one box in the “race” section of the 2000 Census was an important step in this direction. No longer forced to choose a single racial identity, Americans are now free to identify themselves as mestizos—and with this newfound freedom we may begin to endow racial issues with the complexity and nuance they deserve.
Bill Cosby was on the radio this morning and the subject of Obama being the Great Black Hope is out there, again. What are the terms we will use? Post-White? Post-race?
update: With today being Martin Luther King day, lots of new polls have been issued and I studied them.
Far fewer Americans see racism as a major problem than did just 13 years ago. Reviewing the latest polling on race and ethnicity, here are my conclusions: race is still seen as a problem but racial equality will be achieved in our lifetimes; Obama's election will bring some improvement or maybe a new era to relations between races and that problems will be worked out.
The new N-word is nationalization.