Can We Move Beyond Race?


White people like bland foods and mayonnaise, black people are naturally talented at basketball, and Mexicans work for landscaping businesses are a few racial stereotypes that are tossed around in popular culture. Racial stereotypes are encountered everyday in conversations and print and visual media. Race is inescapable and penetrates the social fabric for every man and woman, young or old. There are university courses dedicated to studying the impact of race on issues of housing, voting rights, and effects on citizenship.   Race has always had a dominating impact on society in the United States from Colonial America to the stop and frisk laws in the 21st century. Race has always been a significant force in the American experience, and to say otherwise would be neglecting centuries of civil unrest. In the late twentieth century and in the early twenty-first century literature and discourses pose questions about the possibility of a post-racial U.S. society. Does all the writing and talking about race and racism and the evils attached mean that the U.S. has abandoned patterns of the past? Do Americans no longer operate and conduct themselves along racial prejudices? Examining Toure’s argument in “Forty Million Ways to Be Black” that there is no single definition of Blackness and Heben Nigatu‘s assertion that Americans commonly encounter unintended racial prejudices everyday, suggest that stereotypes cannot accurately capture a group of people.  Social media on one level can perpetuate racial stereotypes, while at the same time challenging them by raising awareness to start a dialogue against ignorance.

Blackness is not homogeneous, but a fluid social construction. There is not a collectively agreed upon meaning of Blackness. The chapter, “Forty Million Ways to Be Black,” suggests that Blackness is diverse. Toure writes that Americans are in a “post-Black era….leaving behind the vision of Blackness as something narrowly definable and we’re embracing every conception of Blackness as legitimate.” Blackness is individualistic. This means that statements such as “you don’t act like a normal black person ya’ know?“, which is exhibited on “21 Micro-aggressions you Hear on a Daily Basis,” are problematic in that such statements are sweeping  generalizations resting on fallacious ideas of racial homogeneity.  Digital technology became a site of exchange for advancing racial discourses. In a video clip from the film Undercover Brother the scene makes the joke that white people love mayonnaise, and blacks do not. This is a joke, but jokes perform more than providing humor. Jokes provide social commentary and voice anxieties. Digital technology is not only a vehicle for advancing prejudices stereotypes; it can voice opinions that held held in esteem and show disapproval of actions and words that offer a narrow and ignorant belief.

There is a large amount of controversy over the recent Coca-Cola commercial American is Beautiful. What is so interesting about the reaction to the commercial, aside from commentators’ nativist claim that “America the Beautiful” is the U.S. national anthem and English as the national language, is the negative representation of multiple cultures, languages, and orientations in the U.S. over an Anglo Saxon representation of the U.S. The commercial portrays the U.S. as a nation with people of different ethnic backgrounds, orientations, and religious affiliations with the belief that diversity makes the U.S. unique. The commercial rests on the idea that diversity is a key component in being American. The  America is Beautiful argues that instead of a single dominate culture in the country is the pluralism of the U.S. makes the nation beautiful. A Tumblr site titled Public Shaming is dictated towards displaying tweets that made racial, nativist, and sexual attacks towards the commercial to show disapproval and the ignorance of the comments. The Coca-Cola commercial and the Tumblr site both illustrate that race is a significant factor in the American experience. People all over the whole come to the U.S. because they can partake in diversity in one nation. The call for an appreciation of the many cultures in the U.S. is not a recent phenomenon.

In 1916 Randolph Bourne wrote the essay Trans-national America asking for an awareness of the country’s cultural pluralism. The “Forty Million Ways to Be Black” chapter and the America is Beautiful commercial complements Bourne’s essay because they do not want to turn a blind eye towards the racial and cultural forces in the U.S. The U.S. should be a race aware society.

Social media has the ability to continue racial stereotypes, but it can challenge stereotypes by starting conversations against ignorance.  In “Forty Million Ways to Be Black” the reader learns that there is not a single, clear cut definition of Blackness. What Blackness entails is determined by an individual. Similarly “21 Micro-aggressions you Hear on a Daily Basis” helps to illustrate that racial stereotypes are fallacious and  generalizations.  A post-racial U.S. society suggest that Americans ignore the country’s racial history and the diversity that enriches the country. The United States should not be a post-racial society, but, instead, a race aware society.


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