It's hard for me to accept that racism still exists within our modern society, yet the controversial remarks of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, conveniently surfacing just days before the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., have once again reignited an issue that should have been long ago relegated to the intellectual scrap heap of history.
My initial intent with this post was to show the slow yet steady decline of racism in America; making the argument that perception and reality may be at odds in this particular case. Unfortunately the answer is not easily determined as reports and statistics vary greatly depending upon the location and ethnicity of those polled.
According to The Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of active hate groups in the United States increased from 888 in 2007 to 926 in 2008. While the increase is alarming, the numbers also include 113 black supremacist/separatist groups as well as the American National Socialist Workers Party and other names more traditionally associated with hatred, such as the Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan. It should be noted that both the KKK and the Imperial Klans of America actually showed declines in their 2008 chapters.
In terms of the public's perception of racism, the majority of people questioned in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll felt that African Americans already had or would soon achieve racial equality.
These figures show some encouraging trends, but much more needs to be done before we can completely put this issue behind us.
While isolated pockets of hatred do still exist within our society, they are typically confined incidents, and the perpetrators are generally cast aside by a more reasoned and healthy body of our population. As a belief system, one would hope that racism has become more of a surface abrasion rather than a deep-rooted cultural cancer.
Unfortunately, the efficient scalpel so often used to excise that cancer in the past has become a tool of political expediency, and our nation has undergone frequent and unnecessary operations that only delay our ultimate healing.
In such an advanced age when space travel is no longer front page news, how is it possible that our journey towards a universe of equality is still mired within the gravity of such blatant ignorance? Have we made more progress than some might realize or care to admit?
Perhaps it has simply become easier to confuse stupidity with racism. We've spent so much time bowing before the alter of political correctness that we may have missed the fact that often we're merely exchanging one yoke for another.
In the recent case of Harry Reid's remarks mentioned previously, the authors of Game Change quote Reid as saying that he:
… believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama — a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one…
The right-wing airwaves were alight with calls for Reid's resignation after making such “inflammatory” and “obviously racist” remarks.
I may be criticized for this statement, but I tend to think the issue brought to the surface by Reid's comment has more to do with the thickness rather than the color of our skins. Unpolished? Ignorant? A clear lapse of judgment? Absolutely, but the label of racist seems inappropriate in this case.
Reid is a man from another era, and I believe that he was simply stating what he felt to be an obvious truth. While outdated, the term "Negro" does not carry any particular negative stigma that I'm aware of, but we could ask the board of the United Negro College Fund for confirmation.
I believe he was also correct in his assessment of Obama's dialect. Our country would not elect a President that spoke Ebonics any more than we'd elect a Brando-like Mafioso figure that spoke like one of the Sopranos. America prefers a more homogeneous approach.
In the age of television, we also tend towards "pretty people." The politics of today clearly favors the Kens and Barbies of the world — those with no discernible distractions, nails sticking up or rough spots in need of sanding. Perhaps Joe Biden was attempting to express that sentiment when he said about then-candidate Obama:
I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.
While I may be hesitant to paint everything with the broad and unforgiving brush of racism, I am often struck by the incredible hypocrisy shown by both the media and our elected officials in such matters.
Most are familiar with the controversy over Trent Lott's infamous toast at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday in 2002 and his subsequent resignation over those remarks, but many news outlets have failed to report Barack Obama's public statement at that time:
The Republican Party itself has to drive out Trent Lott. If they have to stand for something, they have to stand up and say this is not the person we want representing our party.
In contrast, when commenting on the Harry Reid incident, President Obama said:
I accepted Harry's apology without question because I've known him for years, I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice and I know what's in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed.
I've already stated that Reid's remarks strike me as more careless than racist, but the double standard remains as Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steel notes:
What's interesting here, is when Democrats get caught saying racist things, an apology is enough. If that had been Mitch McConnell saying that about an African-American candidate for president of the United States, trust me, this chairman and the [DNC] would be screaming for his head, very much as they were with Trent Lott.
Another example of Mr. Obama's apparent racial imbalance came in July of last year when black college professor Henry Gates Jr. was arrested. Before even knowing the facts concerning the arrest of an unruly and uncooperative citizen, President Obama made a public announcement saying that the police had "acted stupidly." Wouldn't such a blind assumption have to be rooted in some sort of racial bias?
There were numerous other issues centered around Mr. Obama such as the "white folk's greed runs a world in need" quote from his "racist" pastor of 20 years, or the time when candidate Obama referred to his grandmother as "a typical white person." Some may not see the double standard here, but if John McCain described someone as "a typical black person," or had he sat for decades in the church of a prejudiced preacher, you can bet the reaction would have been relentless.
These instances demonstrate the dual function of racism as it's used by the modern political warrior. As a weapon, it's used to quickly dispatch enemies with opposing ideologies, leaving open, slow-healing wounds as it cuts a path of division and hatred. As a shield, it serves to shelter many, including our President and much of the Democrat leadership from legitimate scrutiny or debate.
We've seen these tactics used successfully throughout the 2008 campaign as allegations of "race card playing" flew back and forth between the camps of all candidates. Are we to believe that all of the front-runners to the most powerful elected office in the world were potential manipulators of racial inequity or has it simply become too easy to fall back on such inflammatory and divisive accusations?
Both political adversaries and legitimate groups of concerned citizens such as those associated with the Tea Party movement have been tattooed with the label of racist numerous times since the election. Perhaps Janeane Garofalo sums it up best:
Let’s be very honest about what this is about. This is not about bashing Democrats. It’s not about taxes. They have no idea what the Boston Tea party was about. They don’t know their history at all. It’s about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up and is nothing but a bunch of teabagging rednecks. There is no way around that.
How is it that conservatives, and particularly Republicans, have been branded as the party of racism and bigotry when history points to such a different conclusion?
As Melanie Morgan writes for World Net Daily in an article entitled "Racist Democrats: Then and now,"
The mainstream media and Democrats have done a good job of whitewashing the horrific history of racism that continues even today. They want to point to GOP as the Grand Old Polluters of race instead of looking inward, where the poison is roiling.
Is there a Republican equivalent to former Ku Klux Klan member and long-standing Senator Robert Byrd? Here are a couple of quotes from this former Kleagle who's often referred to by Democrats as "the conscience of the Senate."
Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.
The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia and in every state in the Union.
It's not my intention to discount the collective atrocities of our species. They are both great and vast. The inhumanity of slavery, the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, the outright barbarity of the Inquisition and our own internment of American citizens during WWII are but a small sampling of our darkest moments that should serve as a constant reminder of the fragility of our humanity.
Alleging racism for political expediency or emotional impact as we see so often from the likes of Garafolo, Nancy Pelosi and countless others only serves to desensitize the population and lessen our ability to affect serious change in the years ahead.
Slavery was a terrible stain upon our history, but aren't we ready to move beyond the issue at this point? Must every disagreement or difference of opinion between people of different races be immediately suspect? We currently have a black president in the White House, numerous political leaders of various ethnicities in high positions of power and a wealth of positive, well accepted role models within the worlds of sports and entertainment. At this point in the game, I think it's safe to say that the overwhelming majority of Americans would neither notice nor care when it came to the race of their banker, butcher, doctor or president.
As I see it now, the only injustice being levied upon black Americans is the continued dependence and disparity fostered by an over-zealous welfare state that rewards the deconstruction of the black family and offers no incentive whatsoever for those receiving state assistance to elevate their status in life. Furthermore, with nearly 70% of births within the black community being to single mothers, the trend is sure to continue.
Given the shambles of our current economy, it would be inhumane to cut these programs now, but as with the "teach a man to fish" mentality, we would do infinitely more good by restructuring our current welfare programs to actually promote the betterment of individuals rather than the never ending growth of ineffective great society programs that serve up the same old slavery without the chains.
In the words of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassiexx as immortalized by Bob Marley:
That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained…