Since Barack Obama got elected, everyone’s been trying to decide whether American race relations have improved or not. Many feel that Barack’s election was a monumental sign that SOMETHING had changed. America was “ready” for a black president. Tremendously small, all-white counties who had a history of voting Republican voted for Barack Obama. On election night, when you watched the news coverage, it seemed like that historic moment brought everyone of every demographic together. SOMETHING had changed, right? Did America really wake up a new nation on November 5, 2008? Barack’s election was very symbolic and meaningful for me personally, as it was for many minorities. But in relation to it being a sign of improved race relations, I feel that it was a “glimmer” of what COULD be and not what IS.
As I was browsing the “Newsweek” magazine website, I came across a photo gallery titled “Segregation Nation”. The premise was in reflection of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, photographically depicting the improvements, if any, in civil rights and race relations. The gallery gave a bleak, but realistic picture. Under a “then and now” format, the gallery highlighted the fact that regardless of the comparison photos being 40-70 years apart, not a whole lot has changed. For example, there were comparison photos of a restaurant “sit in” in 1960, and a photo of a Nashville Cracker Barrel who settled out of court in 2005 with the NAACP for a discrimination suit. Also, photos of a Florida segregated public swimming pool in 1958, and the now famous story of a African-American summer camp that had their pool-club membership fees refunded after there were concerns of the “complexion and atmosphere” of the club changing as a result of their presence. The gallery also illustrated currently present segregation and racial injustices in the prison system, the justice system, public schools and even high school proms.
My assessment? There’s been significant legal change (the laws are on the books, at least) but not significant social change. Yes, there are more people now than back then who are staunch multiculturalists and, yes, I much rather be black in 2009 than in 1959, but socialized, institutionalized and systemized racism still very much exists. People just sweep those forms of racism under the rug because it’s easier to hide; it’s not overt. In 2009, the standard is “it’s okay to be racist or prejudicial, as long as it’s not blatant.” As long as it doesn’t look like the “old” racism- i.e. burning crosses, yelling slurs at people, and Jim Crow-esque symbols, it’s not racism. Racism was not the reason why those summer camp kids got their fees refunded. No one called them niggers. There was not a sign that said “no coloreds” on the outside of the pool. We didn’t say “nigger” or “colored”, we said “complexion and atmosphere”. “Complexion and atmosphere” aren’t racist terms, are they?
When you look at things like CNN’s “Latino in America”, or hear the stories of slain innocence like that of Sean Bell and Luis Ramirez, or hear of judges preventing interracial couples from getting married, or the atrociousness that was Louis Gates arrest, the signs are all around us. When I looked up the interracial marriage story on MSNBC.com, I found a slew of other current stories related to race relations; many of them reflecting prejudice and saddening inequalities. When debate ensues about these stories, they will more than likely be labeled as “overreactions”, like the events mentioned before them.
Sometimes the debates make it even clearer that racism is still a dominant force than the events themselves. Get people talking candidly about anything even mildly connected to racial politics (such as immigration or welfare), and the prejudice will slip in behind all the politically correct statements.
How much has really changed? Especially if the first black president is only GLIMMER of what COULD be and not what IS? Speaking of the president, nothing says race relations haven’t socially improved like the way Barack Obama has been treated. Before you roll your eyes, I’m not saying that he shouldn’t be criticized. I criticize him. Criticize away; we must hold our leaders accountable. This isn’t about democrat vs. republican either. This is about the blatant, spiteful disrespect and disregard for him that is ENGRAINED in racism. There’s no getting around it; it’s flat out racist. There is no other motive behind the antics and maltreatment. Just listen to the people who allegedly ONLY have a problem with his politics. If you listen carefully, some criticisms of Obama do not STOP at politics. After some get through explaining why they disagree with him, they almost always end it with a prejudicial remark. It never fails. The prejudice is always in there somewhere. It’s added like spice.
I have seen and heard several examples of this in my personal life and in media. To point out some examples known to the public: the purposeful television banning in schools of his harmless speech on education, the never ending claims that he is a terrorist, a communist, the anti-Christ, or a mix of all three; the claims that his birth certificate shows that he is not a U.S. citizen and cannot be president, Rep. Joe Wilson calling him a liar during what should have been a formal address, and the list goes on and on. All were to send the message to Obama that he does not belong. He is not American. He doesn’t belong to the American people, he doesn’t belong on the soil and he is not the face of the “free world”. He is a sinister alien. Again, this is not about democrat vs. republican, because many of the democratic leaders of the past have not seen the disrespect that Obama has. This is racism. And what people say behind closed doors is even worse (boy, have I seen it).
For every ounce of progress we see racially, there is an ounce to counteract it. Yes, there’s a black man in office, but he’s accused of being satanic and not a citizen. Yes, there are laws against hate crimes, but all too often justice is not served (i.e. the Luis Ramirez trial- his murderers were cleared of significant charges and will only serve a small portion of time). Is THAT progress? While it INFURIATES me that Obama has had to deal with some of this CRAP, at the same time, any potentially racist thing that happens toward him gets media attention. This could result in people learning what racism REALLY looks like and that isn’t a fragment of the minority population’s mind after all.
Please check out the “associated links” tab under “Race Relations NOW-My Take” for information on the “Segregation Nation” photo gallery, the summer camp pool story, “Latino in America”, Luis Ramirez, Sean Bell, the interracial marriage story, and other relevant news reports.