Has America vanquished racism?

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By The Staff

By Hannah Hayes

There’s no doubt Jan. 20, 2009, ushered in a color change. Still, racial bigotry is a stubborn, often deeply entrenched characteristic. It’s been only three weeks since the inauguration, three months since the election, and a new president couldn’t possibly jar that manner of thinking loose in such a short time. Could he?

President Obama has certainly advanced this country several notches up toward progress against prejudice, but has his election made sweeping changes with racists? It has done so much to lift up the hopes and dreams of minorities in America, yet it has also brought out antagonism in others. There have been threats made against Obama since the election. Racism still lives in the hearts and minds of many. From Jim Crow laws to recent abandonment during Hurricane Katrina, black history has endured many rough spots.

So, what has changed? Surely we’ve emerged as a diverse population celebrating the addition of an African-American to the line of men who have served as president. It’s visually stunning. Internationally, the U.S. has earned some badly needed capital, quickly repudiating the way Bush spent his own 2004 “political capital.”

To say that racism has been conquered, however, is quite a stretch. Can the election of one man have already negated our entire shameful history? Since the earliest Colonial days, whites have targeted various minority groups. Remember Indian reservations, discrimination against the ethnically different, indentured servants, Japanese internment camps, various waves of Asian and Latino immigrants? The U.S. is an equal opportunity discriminator.

Are you shocked to think that whites might appear racist to blacks? African-American history began here with slavery. At one time, 12 million Africans were owned by brutal and inhumane whites. That makes it especially historic to have Michelle Obama in the White House. As a descendant of slaves, this first lady’s significance is as amazing as her husband’s. Consider that it was only as recent as July 30, 2008, that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution apologizing for American slavery.

The unsolved assassination of Malcolm X, FBI threats toward civil rights workers and King’s untimely and suspicious death were covert attempts to slow down change. Obama has an opportunity to accelerate change. For example, racially imbalanced prison populations must be addressed. When there’s equal justice for all, we’ll be closer to saying that racism has been conquered. The tense atmosphere at Jena High School in Jena, La., including the hanging of nooses in a tree, prompted the largest civil rights demonstration in recent years. The New Year’s Eve shooting of Oscar Grant in California ended another young black life at the age of 22. Locally, racial profiling continues and Denver police have brought in a social psychologist to increase awareness and counter bias.

It would seem there is still work to be done. I don’t believe we have overcome.

By Kelly Weist

The Obama campaign made a lot of the idea that its campaign and the resulting administration would be “post-partisan.” I think recent days have proven that claim to be overblown, at best. But I have a different question: Has the election of the first African-American president shown that America has overcome its racial past?

Certainly, Obama’s campaign warned loudly that if Sen. Obama was not elected, it would be proof that America was still a racist country. Isn’t the opposite also true? If our country elected its first African-American president, something no other Western nation has done, and without any violence or significant disruptions, can’t we be said to be post-racial?

America has a racial history that we all know, one that is truly regrettable. And while we had seriously horrible racists who did terrible things, we also had highly honorable and good people who worked to end slavery and to extend our cherished fundamental rights to people of color. However, over the past 150 years, we as a society have made real and steady progress toward a post-racial society. Proof of this is not only an African-American president, but several offices held by African-Americans, African-Americans as heads of corporations and organizations, high-profile African-Americans on the lists of the wealthiest and most influential people.

There has been very little, and no really significant, hate group activity over the past few years and none during the 2008 election. There are individual racists, but they are few in number and invariably marginalized by mainstream society, which may explain why they do what they do. While African-Americans do less well on many socio-economic indices, when those data are controlled for things like family breakdown and black-on-black crime, there is no significant data spread between whites and African-Americans. (I know this isn’t what you’ve heard from the liberal mainstream media.)

African-Americans do not experience institutionalized racism on any real measure in America anymore. They face culturally based challenges that can be overcome, as many prominent African-Americans, even President Obama, have acknowledged. But institutionalized “reverse racism” is now the law of the land. Affirmative action programs enforced by government, based on quota systems, are de rigueur at universities, schools and other government agencies. We live in a liberal culture that assumes racism is at the heart of any human interaction that doesn’t go the way they want. And the double standard is not only alive and kicking, but rules the roost. Any candidate who attended a church for 20 years listening to a racist pastor who railed against racial minorities would have been crucified from day one. However, it’s no big deal for Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

So, sadly, no, we don’t live in a post-racial society. Some cannot give up the fight, because the fight is so central to their identities, their elections and their pocketbooks.

Hannah’s rebuttal

Post-partisan? The nomination of Republican Sen. Judd Gregg to head the Commerce Department shows that the election of a black president does not mean that African-American interests will necessarily be served. Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee is dismayed. Gregg’s opposition to census funding and his big-business attitude do not bode well for minorities who want to benefit from economic recovery plans.

President Obama was elected to make philosophical changes. Why cater to the same Republicans that brought us the last eight years of position spinning, deficit spending, corporate loving, environment destroying, and war idolizing? It’s quite a leap from former-nominee Bill Richardson to Gregg.

Post-racial? Kelly writes that the good thing about slavery was the emergence of honorable people to end it. That’s kind of like Dick Cheney saying the good thing about Bush administration security failures was that they let 9/11 happen only once.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” What will it truly take to overcome our past? Regretting it won’t be enough.

Kelly’s rebuttal

The white liberal insistence on a racist America is quite interesting, really. It’s as if they can’t deal with the idea that everyone except for them is a stone-cold racist. Therefore, if you have a different opinion on almost any issue, ipso facto, you’re a racist. They are the chosen ones, I guess.

Of course, their racist behavior toward any conservative African-American is nothing short of outrageous. Would we have had the first black president if it was Michael Steele or Condoleezza Rice? They are constantly attacked in very racist ways. Any of the horrible comments made about Steele during his run for governor of Maryland in 2006 would have set the mainstream media on fire had it been said about Barack Obama. Opinion columnists Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele, while being wonderfully logical and rational about cultural issues, are lambasted and burned in effigy on a regular basis. Apparently, only certain blacks get adulation from leftists. There used to be offensive terms for that situation. America won’t be post-racial until a conservative black is treated like Obama has been.

Hannah B. Hayes is a small-business owner and activist with Evergreen Peace. A recent graduate of Leadership Evergreen with a master’s degree in education, Hayes has remained active in this community through her writing and organizing for 35 years.

Attorney and political activist Kelly Weist has served on the board of directors of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women and is the co-founder of Mountain Republican Women. She is an adjunct professor of political science at Metropolitan State College of Denver.