The summer of 2010 will not only be remembered for record-beating heat but also record-baiting racism. It’s ironic that 18 months into the historic presidency of Barack Obama this nation is sweltering in intolerance, ignorance and bickering, the likes of which civil rights icon W.E.B Du Bois might never have imagined would still exist.
“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,” Du Bois wrote in The Souls of Black Folks more than 110 years ago.
Fast forward and today we are no less inundated with racial hatred and fear mongering antics than he was. Many last week were stirred up by factions of the tea party and conservative bloggers such as Andrew Breitbart; others were stirred up by actions of the New Black Panther Party—all for political gain and to destroy the first African-American presidency? Or, to maintain institutional inequity and racism?
Though we are no longer legally segregated, the experiences of many Blacks in America are still demonstratively disparate from their White counterparts. Just check out the growing wealth gap for statistical evidence. This disparity is no accident.
But we never make any sustainable headway to solve intractable racial inequities, such as job discrimination, in this nation of rich heritages and diverse ethnic origins. Instead, we get bogged down in knee jerk reactions and the predictable blame game sound bites when superficial instances and images burst needlessly into bonfires.
This month alone you can begin with the NAACP’s condemnation of racist elements of the tea party, then the tea party’s subsequent condemnation of the NAACP which set off the unethical media feeding frenzy surrounding Agriculture Department executive Shirley Sherrod. That, in turn, caused her swift and unfair firing, which has raised questions about the lack of diversity in the West Wing of the Obama administration.
More than enough unproductive finger-pointing has ensued, right and left. Yet, as we wrap up this firestorm, we are no closer to understanding or trusting one another. Shame; yet another learning opportunity lost. Again, we will retreat to our respective corners until the next Molotov cocktail is lobbed on the racial embers.
But Americans are destined to dance on the hot coals of race relations until we stop trying to deny that we are still a nation very much divided with deeply embedded cultural and historical wounds that have yet to heal. Our elected leaders, clergy, educators and pundits must find a better way to move us across the color line. Simply calling for a national dialogue is clearly not enough when, as dramatized by the events of the past week, such only results in a race-baiting rhetoric spectacle—instead of creating a basis for germinating trust.