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Omar Tyree

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Living in a Post-Racial Society

Posted: 11/07/11 01:05 PM ET

I have a fifteen-year old son now who plays high school soccer. He also plays high school basketball, runs track, and he used to play football and baseball in the youth leagues, where the majority of his teammates were African American. But in soccer... that's a whole different story. He's only one of four African Americans on his team of eighteen student athletes.

However, my son has always been a get-along kid with friends from every race, color and creed anyway; white, black, Asian, Latino, Indian, mixed, you name it. So he's never had a problem with different people and cultures, and he bristles whenever his old-school dad asks him what race his friends are, including the young ladies that he's presently interested in. And maybe he's right to frown at his old man when I ask about race. As the culturally conscious rapper Nas once stated on record a decade ago, "It's a new world!"

Does race even matter in American society anymore? Of course it does. You bet your bottom dollar on it! I wasn't born yesterday. But as far as the American youth are concerned, race doesn't matter anymore, or not as much. Millions of youth around the world have moved on from race matters, and they're tired of hearing about it and talking about it. They date whoever they want to date, listen to all kinds of music, share Mohawks and sports bars, neighborhoods and economic backgrounds, beach parties and Bar Mitzvas; everything!

Not in the place and time where I'm from. In my hometown of Philadelphia, during in the 1980s I attended one of the few racial mixed high schools at Central, where we were only integrated inside of the classrooms. Once our classes let out, we were never to be seen with each other again. We even had different lawns that we hung out on around school during our lunch hours. The cultural separation got even worse when I arrived at the University of Pittsburgh in 1987 for my freshman year of college. We had black parties, white parties, black classes, white classes, black majors, white majors, and we talked about race issues every single day of our lives, to the point where I could no longer concentrate on my studies. In fact, I became so fixated on race that I was inspired to write my first novel on the subject, Colored, On White Campus (now called College Boy). I wrote that book in my second-semester sophomore year at Pitt in 1989, right before I transferred to Howard University, a predominantly African-American school to finish my college education with some peace of mind.

During the 1980s, black and white kids were still worlds apart. And sure, they shared a little disco music and weed during the 1970s, but while African-American and Latino kids began to create the spawning hip-hop culture of rap music, house parties, spinning records, break dancing and graffiti, with a trunk load of brand named clothes, fat shoe laces, gold medallions, neck chains, giant earrings, and designer glasses, millions of white American kids had relocated to the suburbs, where they still listened to rock bands in their garages. But once these suburban white kids finally caught on to the new phenomenon called hip hop, helped along by Run DMC, and even more so by the Jewish, New York rap group, the Beastie Boys, their white American parents became so confused by their children's new interests, dress codes and cultural, that they begin to call them "Generation X", or the unknown.

However, the culture of hip-hop was hardly unknown to African Americans and Latinos, who still lived in the big cities of New York, Philly, DC, Chicago and LA. We knew exactly where this new culture had come from. We were still actively creating it. I even wrote a book about it called Flyy Girl that quickly became an urban classic novel in the early 1990s, and spawned and entire genre of urban/street lit fiction. So I never included black or Latino kids in these brands of "Generation X", "Y" or "Z." We have always been the "First," "Second" and "Third" generations of "hip hop," yet another American culture of which we have created, like Jazz, blues, soul, go-go, disco, P-funk, Michael Jackson's pop, and yes, even Bo Diddley's rock and roll. But once the white kids get involved, we always have to fight to gain our credit of creation. These new cultures always become "American," while losing their proper origins.

Respect for individual cultural, history and origination becomes just one of my many concerns that I have when speaking about a so-called "post-racial society." Cultural minorities, and everything that they add to a given society, have a tendency to become swallowed alive in the big picture. All of a sudden, we start to forget who did what, and then have the nerve to ask why the origination is even important. So after my twenty years of dealing on race, culture, history and education through sixteen novels, two short-story books, and one business book on entrepreneurship, while speaking at more than fifty American colleges and universities (mostly invited by Black Student Unions), all of a sudden, a new-wave of "post-racial" college students no longer want to hear about it. They would rather a professional speaker address them now with more global or universal issues.

Good point, and I commend our new wave of youth for their educational progression. Nevertheless, the ideas, history and culture of the universe and everywhere around the globe also have originations of which every race of people have been a significant contributor. So while we all "just get-along" and hold multicultural hands, singing the national anthem, let's all understand that it's still okay to think about Italians when eating pizza, Spaniards when watching a bullfight, Asians when watching the martial arts, Africans when beating a drum, Native Americans when celebrating Thanksgiving, and so on. Each culture has added something very specific to our human development, and we all need to know that, no matter what race we are. And I don't want us to somehow forget that in our attempt to be "post racial."

Until every American and world history text book is expanded to include all original contributions of every race, and until white American students (who still make up the majority of the American population, particularly in college) are taught to understand and respect the fact that "others" have created large chunks of the "culture" that they now call their own, we will continue to need informed and educated professionals and speakers of every race and walk of life, who understand who they are, where they come from, and where they still need to go in order to set the lopsided records straight in our society.

As it stands, the majority of professional speakers and educators from minority cultures continue to be invited to national campuses by the Black Student Unions (BSUs), the Asian Student Alliances (ASAs) and the Latino Student Clubs (LSCs). And without these student organizations having the power and or the individual budgets to invite who they like, I seriously question how "post racial" we would be. Set in my old-school ways, I still envision swarms of excellent professionals from minority cultures, who could become all but ignored again by a majority white population, who still don't know them and won't care to. This cultural ambivalence would then extend back to the workforce, where minority professionals would once again find themselves unemployed and underemployed, especially during a hard American economy, where whites still hire whites first.

Now, you young bucks may call me old-school if you want, but I clearly remember how important it was twenty years ago for the African-American students at the University of Pittsburgh to make certain that we fought, tooth and nail, to maintain enough of a budget, leftover from our student activities fees, where we could still have specific cultural events, or invite professional speakers to campus who still looked like us, came from communities that we came from, and who still spoke about issues that we cared about. And usually, the white student body never showed up to hear any of our guests, unless they were forced to do so for extra classroom credit. They did, however, show up to argue racial equality issues with Angela Davis when she was invited to Pitt. But as I remember it, like yesterday, we never excluded them from coming to enjoy our events or programs. However, white students surely excluded the majority of our interests from their budgetary lists of programming, because... it just wasn't universal enough.

So, before you young folks run around talking too loud and proud about a world where race no longer matters, please make sure that you understand exactly what you're about to get yourself into. 'Cause see, even though I'm obviously a brother of a lighter shade, I don't call myself a writer "who happens to be black," I call myself a black man "who happens to be a writer." Because I was born "black," or yellow, or a man with obvious African blood, and I'm proud of that. And I would want no one to strip that from me, just like I would never strip the fiery, warrior blood from an Irishman. We just all have to learn to know each other better and to respect each other, and also have a fair opportunity to express ourselves and our culture, even on the job.

Now how "post racial" of an idea would that be?

 

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