Blog Post

Ch. 7: Anna Everett, "Have We Become Postracial Yet? Race and Media Technology in the Age of President Obama"

Part of the Distributed Book Review of Race After the Internet, ed. by Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow-White

Review of Chapter 7, "Have We Become Postracial Yet? Race and Media Technology in the Age of President Obama" by Anna Everett
 
 
Obama, Heterogeneity, and the Not So Post-Racial Society: A Review of Race After the Internet

In this post I will review the chapter titled “‘Have We Become Postracial Yet?’ Race and Media Technologies in the Age of President Obama” from Lisa Nakamura’s and Peter Chow-White’s collection of essays Race After the Internet. In this chapter Anna Everett discusses the role that race, new media news outlets, and information technologies played in Barack Obama’s election and his recent decline in popularity in presidential opinion polls. Everett starts the essay by stating that part of the success of Obama’s presidential campaign was the support that he got from young Americans who mobilized their political support through social media sites i.e. Facebook and videos on YouTube such as the Obama Girl series. In addition, Obama’s tech-savvy persona, also garnered the youth vote. While new media technologies helped the President gain his current position, new media has also been a proponent in decreasing the president’s approval ratings.

Two widely publicized events that Everett discusses are the Henry Louis Gates incident of 2009 and the Shirley Sherrod speech. Each of these events have painted a negative picture of President Obama by causing many citizens to believe that the President is racist and does not truly represent the race-neutral view that helped in his election. In the end, Everett states that despite the fact that having our first Black President and the equalizing nature of the Internet has resulted in the belief that America is embarking into a postracial era of society, it becomes apparent that the Internet is also a place that gives people the chance to espouse racism under a cover of online anonymity. In this sense, we are not yet postracial but the Internet has caused race to be represented in different ways.

In thinking about the president’s decline in approval as a function of the media portrayal of race, I think that Everett was spot on in her assertions that Obama’s movement from being portrayed as race-neutral to Black sympathizer has definitely swayed the way that American citizens view him. During his initial candidacy for President the rhetoric surrounding Obama was that the President “transcended race”, but with the media coverage of the criticism that the President received for inviting Common to the White House for an “Evening of Poetry”, it becomes evident that any time that the President identifies as African-American there is a lot of backlash. In terms of the intersection of race and technology it is easy to forget the downsides of the Internet when the Internet is portrayed as a digital democracy and/or a safe place where all people are equal and have the right to produce their own content. Many times the idea of equality in cyberspace seems to be promoted only so far as the internet is a place where no one has to know your race/gender/age/etc. However, this anonymity does not really promote equality, an idea that to me implies the acceptance of differences, but simply promotes a homogenizing neutrality of those differences. Therefore, while some people may feel that a postracial society is one in which differences are no longer recognized, I believe that the differences should be acknowledged in positive instead of negative ways.

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4 comments

Faithe - 

Thanks for this review. I immediately thought of the Hunger Games and the ridiculous response some people have had about the characters Rue and Thresh and their being black. 

When the Hunger Games Tumblr page collected various Tweets outlining people's dismay at all that blackness in the movie (one person even said it "ruined" the film for them. #yuck), I thought of your post and the ways in which the internet as a colorblind medium works not b/c anonymity promote equality but b/c the anonymity protects those who are blinded by color. 

So I wonder if the allure of the internet is not that no one has to know what one's ethnicity/race is but rather that one can escape from current boundaries in regard to how we discuss ethnicity/race?  

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Yes, I was also surprised to see the response to the Hunger Games on Tumblr and Twitter in regards to the movies black characters. To build upon the the idea that the internet lets us escape the boundaries of how we discuss race and gender I believe that you are absolutely right. Especially in relation to The Hunger Games example, there was one tweet that I saw in which the author stated his or her confusion about Rue's race and ended the tweet with "but maybe i'm racist". In relation to societal norms I could not help but think that if that person was having a conversation with people in a classroom or the other attendees of the Hunger Games movie in a theater I do not think that he or she would have nonchalantly admitted that there opinion was racist while still voicing it. If anything, the thought that their opinion was racist would have kept that person from voicing it to a mixed group of people in real life. While this freedom to express ones self without the boundaries of PC discussions on race and gender can be positive by encouraging a more open and honest discussions about race/gender, I do think that there are many examples (both the Hunger Games example and examples that Everett gave on racially charged anti-Obama blogs) that show the negative side of the say anything atmosphere of the internet. Either way, the inernet is a great place to learn more about how people interpret race/gender in our present societal climate.

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Hey, thanks so much for this review! I've been thinking about this issue quite a bit, especially in light of the inevitable politicized comments surrounding 2012. Honestly, I think a LOT more analysis of the tight links between race and approval in public media, especially tied to the simultaneous rise of the internet as a supposedly post-racial haven, needs to happen in popular forums all over. I mean, what's a post-racial society even supposed to accomplish? Who benefits? Because I don't know that it would be me... 

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Yes, whenever I think about the idea of a post-racial society in which we can transcend the constructs of race (or even gender, age, and other such biases) I always wonder what that movement would entail and as you stated who would it benefit. I think that an important part of being outside of the White majority in America is moving into the future while also remembering past injustices i.e. slavery, discrimination against immigrants, etc. The idea of becoming post-racial seems to privelege those who benefit from what is forgotten and in that sense the move toward a post-racial society can be seen as a way to assuage the white guilt that many White Americans have in regards to the injustices of the past. In this sense, becoming post-racial can be seen as a means by which the past can be erased to build a new future, but I think another question that can be asked is what is the cost of achieving this color-blind future?

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