The More Things Change
Security concerns for Barack Obama are evidence that race is still very much an issue for some Americans
Recently, several media outlets, including the New York Times, have printed stories on the increased security surrounding the Senator and his family. “Obama must be wary of the assassin’s gun” was a headline in The Australian, a major newspaper in the land down under. Members of white hate groups increase their rabid, racist rhetoric on the internet, cowardly hiding their identities behind anonymous website login names, just as they used to hide under white hoods.
Whites should be infuriated and ashamed when we learn that a Google search “assassinate Obama” gets almost 200,000 hits. I am disgusted when I realize the admirable and brave Michelle Obama and her beautiful little girls have to live in fear of people who look like me. Whites too should be incensed that an American can cogently tell a British newspaper, “There are people in this country who will not accept a black president. Even before he got elected, I think some redneck or the Ku Klux Klan would try to do something about it.” Are white people listening? Do we care that such racism runs rampant in too many white minds and hearts?
What’s been happening to the Obamas should make white Americans as worried and angry as it does African Americans.
Still A Ways To Go…
Amazingly, the vast majority of white people, striving to not be racist in their personal lives, fail to realize the depths of both personal and institutional racism still existing in 2008. Almost forty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., much progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go. Institutional racism is when the accepted social patterns and operations in society result in outcomes, in many ways unintended, where certain racial group are significantly disadvantaged. According to US census statistics (www.census.gov), the median household income in the USA is $48,201. That of whites ($50,673) is almost one third greater than that of blacks ($31,969). Median net worth, (i.e., wealth, of white households) is ten times that of black households. Chris Rock’s riff in his HBO special that “Shaq is rich…the man who signs his check is wealthy” is a perceptive bit of comedy on the inequity between race and wealth.
Despite sincere efforts on so many levels, overt, vile racism is still evident in our society. We all heard of Louisiana’s Jena Six this past year where racial tensions at the local high school resulted in a noose being hung from a tree, subsequent fights and several African American kids being charged as adults with attempted murder. The teens were in danger of being sentenced to decades in prison. This past September, 20,000 people marched in Jena to protest the situation. Eventually, the charges were reduced and the students are no longer being treated as adults by the criminal justice system.
Beyond Black and White
Disgracefully, however, fifty misguided souls from the Nationalist Movement hate group marched in Jena on Martin Luther King Day 2008. The good news is that there was a racially mixed group of counter demonstrators numbering over one hundred. Still, look at the evidence of virulent and sickening racism in the United States. Go to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website (www.splcenter.org) and click on the Hate Map and Intelligence Report links.
Racist attitudes and dynamics target more than just African Americans. At Michigan State University in 2006, an undergrad started a chapter of “Young Americans for Freedom,” an organization listed as a hate group by The Southern Poverty Law Center. The students and their cronies—often non-MSU students—hosted speakers whose rantings attacked gays and immigrants. They organized a “straight power” rally held in downtown Lansing. Supporters’ signs read, “End Faggotry” and “Go Back in the Closet.” The YAFs hosted two racist groups on Facebook: “True American Patriot” and “Jobs a White Man Won’t Do.” MSU-YAF pushed a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day” contest, offered a “Koran Desecration” competition, and “jokingly threatened to distribute smallpox-infested blankets to Native American students. They also posted ‘Gays Spread AIDS’ fliers across campus.” (http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?aid=869).
Regardless of what candidate you plan on voting for in 2008, every American—black, white, liberal, conservative, Democrat or Republican—should take the opportunity this year to voice acceptance and support of Senator Obama’s run for the Oval Office. We must all raise our voices against the forces of hatred and intolerance. Resisting racism isn’t just for people of color; whites also need to accept responsibility for eradicating intolerance and injustice.
For those of us who claim to be believers, such work to stamp out racism is more than a moral imperative; it is a condition of our religious commitments. At a time of increased racial tension in Philadelphia the late 1990s, a pastoral letter from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia prophetically taught, “Racism has been condemned as a sin many times… For the truth to have an impact on us, for it to really set us free, it must become our truth. It must be operative within us. It must penetrate and ignite our minds and hearts.”
It is time for whites—especially white Christians—to own the truth and proclaim that racism in any way, shape or form is more than just wrong. Racism violates us all. We know what Jesus would do. He’d tell us racism dishonors any God worth worshiping. Then he’d repeat the parable of the Good Samaritan. We need to listen.