The problem is not defining racism, but doing something about it is; its pernicious tentacles still infect all of our lives. And even though contemporary advocate scholars like Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West illuminate the magnitude of racism's soiled by-products, they, too, are unavoidably ensnarled in its jaundiced web.
Barack Obama's campaign and aftermath of the election attest to racism's deep roots. His steadfast avoidance of the words "Black" or "African American," for example, was politically correct, obviously intended not to alienate White voters. Similarly, not once during their respective speeches at the Democratic Convention did either Barack or Michelle utter those words. (McCain's many racial innuendoes were especially evident when he pitched to "Joe the plumbers.")
Post-election vandalism in South Torrance, an L.A. suburb, was a blatant manifestation of continuing racism: homes with Obama lawn signs and cars with his stickers were painted with "nigger," "Hitler," and "Go Back to Africa." Aren't the implications obvious?
After the election, George W. Bush's former top advisor, Carl Rove, and Bill Cosby's pal, psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, agreed that "the Cosby Show"-about an upwardly mobile Black family–had succeeded in changing racial attitudes enough to make Obama's candidacy possible. How about that?
Obama lost votes because of his race, but this was offset by the landmark financial meltdown causing many White voters to reluctantly switch to Obama at the end. Note: The popular vote was extremely close and, arguably, but for the meltdown, McCain might have won the election. Republican voters abandoned McCain because like countless others, they were hurting financially and came to see McCain as an extension of Bush's failed policies and election would not benefit them.
This column regularly addresses the harms of institutional racism and bemoans the fact that many Blacks tend to deny or minimize its existence. Such thinking is a kind of convoluted self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces practices and conditions inimical to their own interests. Yes, racism matters.
Effective leadership is crucial if Blacks are to effectively challenge. Even more important perhaps is that both poorer and the middle-class regain hope and bring a collective strength to bear with new, progressive political and economic strategies. This means actually holding elected officials and other Black leadership accountable. But ordinary people must first become sufficiently dissatisfied to behave differently, willing to assume risks and take action likely to result in substantive alternatives to the dysfunctional status quo. As Cornel West intones, "Blacks must shed the twin burden of victimization and futile dependence on others…." Transformative behavior also requires acknowledgement and reaffirmation of racial pride, requisite for sustainable change.
Racism's crippling impact on the minds of countless children is rarely discussed. Yet Black youth, based on color, suffer conditioned inferiority and tragically, many urban neighborhoods, neglecting children's needs has become a horrific, unattended norm. Schools, especially, do a serious disservice to these children by failing to acknowledge their special needs-even though they occupy the lowest levels of academic achievement.
Blacks should take note of recent, highly organized large demonstrations; demonstrators felt they were wronged and did something about it-the last time Blacks demonstrated such unity was during the civil rights era. The point is unified action is key for advancing sustainable group agendas. For most Blacks unified action is a faded impersonal memory they have never actually experienced.
Barack Obama's momentous victory does not mean the Calvary has arrived and Blacks will be a top priority, or that his presidency will positively impact them in the near term. Despite an affinity with Obama, in order to get and keep his attention, Blacks, like all other special interest groups, must give him cogent proposals and recommendations, then hold him accountable for responding in a timely manner. This is a challenge made even harder because of Blacks' paucity of experience with group-oriented endeavors.
Tackling racism and race-based issues is especially difficult for Blacks, many of whom have internalized Whites' values and are reluctant to challenge the system. In general, their resources are scarce and have only superficial political clout resulting chiefly from prolonged oppression. Nonetheless, Black history is defined by pride, resilience and defiance; the price of servitude has always been too high.
Whether racism is indelible depends not only on Whites, but in no small measure, on Blacks themselves. With renewed courage and resolve we will determine our own destiny.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org