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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/5/10

Racism Then and Now

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April 4, 2010, marked the 42nd anniversary of the assassination of the great civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I often wish that King had lived to see Barack Obama, an African-American, become President of the United States of America.

Indeed, there have been other obvious civil rights victories since King's day that are worth celebrating. We've had two African-American Secretaries of State, both -- believe it or not -- appointed by a Republican president! And countless notable African Americans have achieved great success in mainstream business and academia as well.

But, even as Barack Obama sits in the Oval Office, we have not yet achieved King's dream of a post-racial America. Not even close.

While Jim Crow laws may be a thing of the past (except in some places, like that swim club in Philly), racism itself unfortunately is not. In fact, it appears as though Obama's presidential campaign and election have fueled a resurgence of bold displays of racially charged hatred against African Americans. There are all those racist signs carried by tea partiers at their rallies, sporting slogans like "Obama's Plan: White Slavery" and "Save White America!" And then there was the N-word that was shouted last month at Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, while another protestor spat on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who is also black. It's starting to look more and more like the 1960s and earlier. In fact, a 2009 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center noted that the number of organized hate groups in the U.S. has actually been rising.

Prior to the 2008 campaign season, the most conspicuous (i.e., most publicized) examples of racism in the U.S. typically involved prejudice towards Latinos (as evidenced by the war on immigration) and -- especially since 9/11 -- prejudice towards Muslims and Middle Easterners in general. While those forms of racism have certainly not subsided, now that we have a black guy in the White House, it's bringing out the anti-black sentiments of tea partiers and other bigoted cowards into full public view. Sadly, they are inspired and encouraged by their right-wing leaders, like Rush Limbaugh, who entertained his radio listeners with a song called "Barack The Magic Negro". And -- perhaps worst of all -- they seem to have no qualms, no shame, and certainly no apologies.

This is the year 2010. How many more generations will it take before all people will, to quote Dr. King, "be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"?

I fear that I will not live to see the day. But I continue to hope. The younger generations are our future, and I hope that the more open-minded young people in this country will consistently outnumber and outvote those who are brainwashed into bigotry by the irrational fears of their fathers.

Indeed, it seems as though our younger generations, for the most part, are much more color-blind that those of the past. Interracial marriages -- often resulting in beautiful multi-racial children -- are much more commonly accepted these days. And our non-white population is slowly but surely edging its way into a demographic majority. While this is surely a contributing factor to the white man's fear, it represents to me a welcome kind of karmic justice. Still it is a shame, however, if the war on racism can be won only by outnumbering the racists.

In the meantime, let us mark each success, large and small -- a black man in the White House, a wise Latina on the Supreme Court, two black Secretaries of State, and other notable accomplishments -- as a huge step forward on a very long road towards a post-racial America.

And may Dr. King rest in peace.

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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