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Post-blackness and the equal opportunity to be unequal

February 12, 2012

I had the good fortune (and keen decision-making) to attend a fantastic Black History Month debate put on by the youth-led political action group and progressive think tank, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle. The debate, featuring John Hopkins professor Lester Spence and Towson University professor John Bullock, focused on the relevance of black history and black identity in a “post-black” era. I’ve written about my thoughts on post-blackness before, so I won’t rehash them here.

But I will posit that the “post-blackness” concept continues to speak very specifically to the “talented tenth,” as Spence noted so forcefully during the Black History Month debate, and speaks much less so for the black underclass. “Post-blackness” is for a black meritocratic class that is afforded opportunity and access foreign to the black underclass. This is nothing new; as Spence notes, both white supremacists AND the black meritocratic class have historically employed blackness as a tool to hoard resources from the black underclass. “Post-blackness” doesn’t challenge social hierarchy nor does it enable a new model of social mobility for black Americans; instead, “post-blackness” continues to reinforce a very black and American tradition of individuals (and groups) competing over limited resources.

Quite frankly, I’m exhausted by the “post-blackness” conversation as it is presently constructed and articulated. I’d rather be having a critical discussion of social mobility and opportunity; this Salon.com piece on “America’s failed promise of equal opportunity” is a good start.

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