One of the ugliest words in the English language is “racism,” Not only is the application of this word inconsistent with the equal protection provisions of our Constitution, racism permeates racial, ethnic and gender lines. Not all discrimination is racism, but all racism is discrimination. On Saturday, July 13, 2013, a woman of color and five white female jurors decided that it is okay for an armed white want-a-be cop to shoot an unarmed teenager to death and not be held accountable.
Only Zimmerman knows what happened that rainy evening in 2012 when he profiled, followed and killed Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old African American boy visiting his father. A scuffle ensued, a shot rang out and a teenager is dead. This case consumed the country’s attention for more than a year, sparking heated racial debate. While some criticized Zimmerman for racially profiling 17-year old Martin, others including at least one juror, said that Trayvon was, in fact, the aggressor. Fox News analyst Ann Coulter praised the Zimmerman decision when she remarked “hallelujah.” In her book, “If Democrats had Any Brains, They’d be Republicans,” Coulter wrote, “I’m a Christian first, and a mean-spirited, bigoted conservative second, and don’t you ever forget it.” Over the past several years, Coulter has successfully demonstrated her bigoted nature.
Although both counsel were advised to leave race out of the discussion during the trial, at the press conference following the verdict, Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, remarked that if his client were black, “he never would’ve been charged with a crime.” Either O’Mara is completely naive on the subject of racism or living on another planet.
“Racism” is indeed a sensitive topic for discussion and I had to consider if I really wanted to approach this subject here. After careful consideration, however, I have concluded that a significant number of events occurring over the past few years have produced ample evidence for me that twenty-first century racism is alive, well and flourishing. While some believed that racism and the “Jim Crow” era had passed over fifty (50) years ago, unfortunately for many minorities, it was only in “remission” like cancer, and it only took an African American President to bring out the worst of racist America. At least when cancer is in remission, we know in advance that it can flare up at anytime.
According to Wikipedia, the exact definition of racism is controversial both because there is little scholarly agreement about the meaning of the concept of “race” and because there is also little agreement about what does and does not constitute discrimination. I disagree with Wikipedia because I think the definition of racism is simple—racism occurs when a person or a group of persons prohibits another person or group from exercising their civil rights. Racism is generally exhibited in one of two forms – subtle or blatant. Subtle racism occurs when the affected person or persons are not aware that they have become victims of racism. For example, when two equally qualified candidates are being considered for a position but one receives the position solely because of race, that’s subtle racism. Blatant racism occurs publicly. For example, a federal court recently found Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio guilty of engaging in blatant racism by racially profiling Latino drivers.
Racism is nothing new to African Americans and other minorities. In fact, I have personally been the victim of both subtle and blatant racism. During the 1950s while accompanying my church choir to Danville Virginia for a musical concert, we stopped at a diner. Upon entering that diner, it never occurred to us that we would not be served because of the color of our skin. We were told by a waitress that they didn’t serve “coloreds” in the restaurant but we could go to the carry-out side and purchase a meal to go. During this same period, my sister-in-law had to be escorted by police as the first African American student entering an all white school in Washington DC for the first time. As other African American students started to attend, the National Guard replaced the police because African American students were being physically assaulted by white students. These assaults continued through much of that school year. A subtle incident of racism occurred to me when I started working for a Federal agency in 1961. Although I was hired as a clerk-typist, instead of giving me the clerk-typist position, I was assigned to the Docket Room as a file clerk. During my early years in the Federal workplace, I quickly realized that the standards for advancement as an African American were significantly higher than for my white counterparts. Good was not good enough, my work had to be outstanding. Even then, promotion was still very competitive. If only one advancement opportunity was available, it would often go to the white employee. After the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 Federal agencies were required to establish hiring goals that opened a number of opportunities for minorities. Unfortunately, some minorities failed when they were assigned to positions they didn’t meet the qualifications. Of course, those failures fed certain right-wing opponents of the Act with racist rhetoric about the competence of African Americans.
It should be noted that a racist nucleus of mad white Americans has never supported racial equality. In fact, their political representatives voted against both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. The loudest voices of right-wing talk radio and cable television such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Fox News commentators, appeal directly to that core with racially tinted messages as the right-wing of the Republican Party continues to do. You may recall that there were blatant signs of racism at the most heated town hall meetings during the summers of 2008 and 2009 including many Tea Party signs that carried overtly racial messages and pictures. Even during the 2012 presidential elections, there were elements of racist behavior.
It appeared that much progress had been made in attempting to eliminate racism; however, there was a significant set-back when President Obama was inaugurated as the first African American President and re-elected to a second term. Racist attacks have become even more blatant especially when you hear congressional Republican verbal assaults on this President as well as its extreme right-wing radical element. The rage during the campaign and over the past 4-1/2 years have been unprecedented especially when you hear emotionally charged members of the white community say that they want to “take their country back” as though it has disappeared because there is an African American President in the White House.
Many people especially African-Americans continue to believe that President Obama is being disrespected by a racist White America. The consistent involvement of the “birther” movement during the 2012 presidential campaign that raised doubts about Obama’s citizenship is one example. Other examples of blatant racism include Newt Gingrich’s attack on President Obama as a “food stamp president” and his claim that African Americans are content to collect welfare benefits rather than pursue employment. We all remember the disrespect shown the President when Republican Congressman Joe Miller called the President a liar during the President’s September 2009 message to Congress about the health care legislation or when Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who was on the tarmac to greet Obama, hand-delivered a letter before engaging the president “intensely” for several minutes, including pointing her finger directly at him. And none of us can forget the racist monologue delivered by Clint Eastwood at the RNC Convention in August 2012. This kind of deliberate contempt for the first African American President is unprecedented and continues to thrive.
CONTINUED IN PART II
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