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In an article in the St. Petersburg Times, actress Rae Dawn Chong wonders if African Americans are ready to give up our “victimhood” in the age of Obama. Luckily, our own Carmen Van Kerckhove offers a view more informed by racial reality.

“If your whole life has been spent in victim mode and you have an opportunity where you are not a victim, who are you now?” Chong said. “I’m not negating the reality that there still isn’t a level playing field. But are we ready to give up our identity of being victims?”

But Chong’s words also highlight a fear of consultant Carmen Van Kerckhove, co-founder of New Demographic, a New York-based diversity education firm.

Her concern: that many people who began thinking about race deeply for the first time during this election will assume Obama’s success means such issues have mostly been conquered.

“It’s obvious there are many whites who want to distance themselves from the spectre of racism which has dogged us in the past,” Van Kerckhove said. “Whether this amounts to substantive change remains to be seen. The danger now is to make sure that people don’t feel that simply by voting for Obama they’ve done their part.”

Van Kerckhove recalled a recent dialogue on race she organized among employees at a Fortune 100 company, an initiative inspired by election talk. There, she saw white executives learn an important lesson: Race issues aren’t just a concern for people of color.

“Some white executives felt they had nothing to contribute. … They had no perspective on race,” she said. “Because I think a lot of white people are conditioned to think of themselves as a neutral force, when they’re not.” Read more…

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek,, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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