The Continuing Question of Race in America

Timing is everything, has become cliche’ and I’m not sure who said it first, but it is so apropos to the events of the last week. The topic of race in America has been a very prevalent topic in the various Social Networking sites from Twitter to Facebook, and has extended into the mainstream conversation because of a couple of events.

Last week a question was posted on Facebook by Rhonda Crowder, a reporter for the Call & Post Newspaper, “Do you think we live in a post-racial America? Does racism still exist? Have WE really overcome?” The question prompted a great deal of conversation, with most saying that racism is still strong and present in the United States.

My take on the question was that yes, we have the first black president and life has definitely changed for him, but on “Main Street” things are very similar to what they were prior to January 20, 2009.

My full response was: Racism is a condition that will continue to exist for a long time. The fact that we have a black president does not negate racism, it simply says that more whites and other minorities were willing to vote for President Obama. For main street the issues of racism have not been eradicated and in some ways have been exacerbated by the economic times that we now find ourselves in. As time continues there may be an end to racism as we know it today, but as human beings I agree with a previous respondent – we will always find a way to see ourselves as better than someone else. Finally, at the heart of racism is power, or a sense of power, so it really depends on who has the ultimate power many years from now as to what shape racism will take on.

The exchange was interesting and thought provoking, but it became very timely on Monday when I learned that Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates had been arrested at his own home. The headlines, blog posts, and tweets spoke of racial profiling and racism. I immediately thought of Rhonda’s question, and thought here is a living example of how things have not changed in America.

Dr. Gates is world-renowned for his documentaries on genealogical research and tracing African American history. He definitely does not look like a thief, but then again what does a thief look like? During an interview on CNN he explained that he would not leave his house because the moment he was out of his house he could be arrested for suspicion of burglary. To think that the officers responding to the call had never heard of him or seen him is astonishing! But it is further proof that there is a long way to go before racism is non-existent.

I don’t think that we will see that day because racism is about more than differences in skin color, it has a great deal to do with perceptions of power and superiority, and while the level of racism felt by people of color may shift as those of color become more powerful the shift will be to another undeserved group.

What do you think? Next…Racism within the race.

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