Posted December 22, 2008

A post-racial era? Think again, Temple experts say

The election of Barack Obama as the first African American U.S. president has prompted Americans to ask a number of questions about our country and ourselves:

Has America transcended its racially-charged past and entered a post-racial era? What are the historical and cultural meanings and symbols that surround this revolutionary moment? To what extent will an African American first family and first lady impact mainstream racial stereotypes?

On the eve of Obama’s inauguration, Temple experts weigh in on Michelle Obama, race relations, Camelot, hate crimes, media images and white privilege.

Paul C. Taylor, associate professor and chair of the Philosophy Department in Temple’s College of Liberal Arts, specializes in philosophy of culture and philosophy of race. He is the author of Race: A Philosophical Introduction (2004), and he is currently working on a book on black aesthetics.

“A black first lady is an even more revolutionary development than a black president. The first lady is, as her title suggests, a national icon for femininity, for good or for ill. But the American public’s ideas about black women are much more likely to be shaped by Beyonce than by California congresswoman Barbara Lee. The ascension of Michelle Obama to the role of America’s first lady is a real cultural shift.”


Paul C. Taylor
Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University
Marc Lamont Hill
Photo courtesy of the College of Education

Marc Lamont Hill, assistant professor of urban education in Temple University's College of Education, is the author of the upcoming book Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life: Hip-Hop, Pedagogy, and the Politics of Identity. He is a frequent contributor to Fox News.

“Middle class blacks and whites want to see the election of Obama as proof that race is a minimal challenge and that this will create the opportunity for everyone. But history has always had blacks who have made it and it has never been accompanied by an opportunity for the masses.”


David Farber, professor of history in Temple’s College of Liberal Arts, specializes in American political culture, U.S. social change movements and racial justice politics. He is the author of The Sixties and Chicago, '68.

“We’re all wondering if we are living through another Camelot, and we can only hope that this era turns out better. Our problems are not those of the '60s; the solutions will be harder to find.”

David Farber

Sonja Peterson-Lewis, associate professor of African American studies in Temple’s College of Liberal Arts, is the chair of the African American Studies Department's undergraduate program and a noted social psychologist.

“People who have achieved but never had to prove themselves worthy may try to justify the past by making the present problematic. What we may be seeing in the hate groups is the use of violence as a means of either frightening, punishing or preventing what is perceived as new competition."

Linn Washington, associate professor of journalism in Temple’s School of Communications and Theater, is a former journalist with several years of experience as an investigative reporter. He is the author of the book Black Judges on Justice: Perspectives from the Bench.

“It is going to take more than having a family of color in the White House to change the depictions of African Americans and other ethnicities in the media. If we take a look at political coverage alone, at a time when diverse viewpoints are needed, we still lack ethnic or individual diversity in the media.”



Thaddeus Mathis, professor emeritus and a former associate dean of Temple University's School of Social Administration, is an expert on African Americans in politics and black independent political movements. He is also the co-director of the Center for African American Research and Public Policy.

“If all of the assumptions that you had grown up with and the information on which they’re based disappears, your system of privilege disappears as well. Once this post–racial world comes, if it does, there are going to be lots of people, including poor whites, who will have to adjust.”

Thaddeus Mathis
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University