Minnesota professor visits UI, discusses racism in today’s society

While some would contend that America is beyond racism, Catherine Squires, professor of journalism, Diversity and Equality from the University of Minnesota, came to the University on Monday night to discuss the idea of “post-racism” and how its use has grown more widespread.

Squires has conducted much research about post-racial culture over the past few decades.

“Post-racial news is the idea that the news about race acts as if race doesn’t matter, when, in fact, it clearly does,” said Kent Ono, coordinator of the event and professor of Asian American Studies. “(Squires) is one of the most astute critics of contemporary culture, of race and politics and discourse, and I’m pleased that she has come to our campus to share some of her wisdom about post-racism with us.”

Squires became interested in the idea of post-racism in the early 2000s when the term was beginning to appear in the news discourse. However, it wasn’t until the 2008 elections, during Barack Obama’s candidacy that this idea was thoroughly addressed.

Squires started her research by looking through how often this term was used in the news. She found that in the 1990s, it was only used 11 times in newspapers and once on air, while in the year 2008 alone, it was used 767 times in newspapers and 215 times in transcripts from radio and television.

This large increase was a result of an African-American candidate being in the presidential elections, Squires said.

“During the 2008 election, the term ‘post-racial’ seemed to be everywhere,” said Squires. “It seemed like a very problematic term because clearly there seemed to still be racial inequality. We still recognize people by their physical features that associate with racial difference, and people still remark about it, so how could we really be post-racial?”

In her research, Squires looked at political history and how it has brought about the idea of post-racism today. There seemed to be new hope for Obama’s candidacy, which seemingly marked the demise of racism.

However, Squires said that she believes that there was a sense of tension after Obama’s inauguration. The United States had elected an African-American president, but there was still a “post-racial mystique” and a yearning for racial equality.

“With Obama’s win, it seems like we’ve accomplished something, but on the other hand, we have all these terrible racial discrepancies,” Squires said. “(Americans) thought it would inspire people to do more. That sense of hope, I think, was real and genuine for a lot of people.”

From her observations, Squires said that one person isn’t sufficient enough to bring structural change to society, but she feels that the element of people’s yearning for change is important. She said she also feels that if people have hope that society can achieve anti-racism, they must also have something to do with it.

“I wish and I hope that the news media would do better in providing us with ways to re-imagine what it might be like to live in a pluralist, multicultural, egalitarian society,” she said. “We have examples of anti-racist work, we have tools to transform our own communities, and we know it takes more than 1 election to bring that kind of change.”

Jon Stone, graduate student, said that he agrees with Squires’ conclusions about post-racism as well as her goals for society as a whole.

“I was especially moved by her comments about how, as members of any community, our job should be to go out and teach folks how to get along with each other,” he said. “Anti-racism, solidarity and community building — that’s where our attention should be.”