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Racism in the Afterglow.

November 16, 2008

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This undated file photo provided by Gary and Alina Grewal of Hardwick Township, N.J., shows a charred cross that had been burned on the lawn of their home. The Grewals placed a banner congratulating President-elect Barack Obama on his election victory in their yard and found the banner wrapped around the charred cross Nov. 6, 2008. Lt. Gerald Lewis of the New Jersey State Police says they are treating the incident as a bias crime. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Grewal family)

Though Barack Obama’s landslide victory on November 4th was perhaps the ultimate symbol of racial progress in American history, the fact is that racism exists in a primal place that can’t be taught, can’t be converted, and is as endemic in human nature as one’s sense of identity or soul.  Whether or not people let that inherent fear dictate their thoughts and actions is what makes them better men.

This is not a story about better men.

The Associated Press reports:

Cross burnings. Schoolchildren chanting “Assassinate Obama.” Black figures hung from nooses. Racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars.

Incidents around the country referring to President-elect Barack Obama are dampening the postelection glow of racial progress and harmony, highlighting the stubborn racism that remains in America.

From California to Maine, police have documented a range of alleged crimes, from vandalism and vague threats to at least one physical attack. Insults and taunts have been delivered by adults, college students and second-graders.

Some of the reported incidents:

  • One was in Snellville, Ga., where Denene Millner said a boy on the school bus told her 9-year-old daughter the day after the election: “I hope Obama gets assassinated.” That night, someone trashed her sister-in-law’s front lawn, mangled the Obama lawn signs, and left two pizza boxes filled with human feces outside the front door, Millner said.
  • Four North Carolina State University students admitted writing anti-Obama comments in a tunnel designated for free speech expression, including one that said: “Let’s shoot that (N-word) in the head.” Obama has received more threats than any other president-elect, authorities say.
  • At Standish, Maine, a sign inside the Oak Hill General Store read: “Osama Obama Shotgun Pool.” Customers could sign up to bet $1 on a date when Obama would be killed. “Stabbing, shooting, roadside bombs, they all count,” the sign said. At the bottom of the marker board was written “Let’s hope someone wins.”
  • Racist graffiti was found in places including New York’s Long Island, where two dozen cars were spray-painted; Kilgore, Texas, where the local high school and skate park were defaced; and the Los Angeles area, where swastikas, racial slurs and “Go Back To Africa” were spray painted on sidewalks, houses and cars.
  • Second- and third-grade students on a school bus in Rexburg, Idaho, chanted “assassinate Obama,” a district official said.
  • University of Alabama professor Marsha L. Houston said a poster of the Obama family was ripped off her office door. A replacement poster was defaced with a death threat and a racial slur. “It seems the election brought the racist rats out of the woodwork,” Houston said.
  • Black figures were hanged by nooses from trees on Mount Desert Island, Maine, the Bangor Daily News reported. The president of Baylor University in Waco, Texas said a rope found hanging from a campus tree was apparently an abandoned swing and not a noose.
  • Crosses were burned in yards of Obama supporters in Hardwick, N.J., and Apolacan Township, Pa.
  • A black teenager in New York City said he was attacked with a bat on election night by four white men who shouted ‘Obama.’
  • In the Pittsburgh suburb of Forest Hills, a black man said he found a note with a racial slur on his car windshield, saying “now that you voted for Obama, just watch out for your house.”

The article cites BJ Gallagher, a sociologist and co-author of the diversity book “A Peacock in the Land of Penguins.”

“The principle is very simple.  If I can’t hurt the person I’m angry at, then I’ll vent my anger on a substitute, i.e., someone of the same race.”

“We saw the same thing happen after the 9-11 attacks, as a wave of anti-Muslim violence swept the country. We saw it happen after the Rodney King verdict, when Los Angeles blacks erupted in rage at the injustice perpetrated by ‘the white man.'”

“It’s as stupid and ineffectual as kicking your dog when you’ve had a bad day at the office, but it happens a lot.”

I’m not going to go the easy route and say, “We’ve got a long way to go.”  That would imply that the concept  of racism has an absolute end.  It doesn’t.  It will perpetuate through generations.  Racism breeds racism.  What I can do is hope that these people eventually fade into background noise — that they become static.  Maybe November 4th, 2008 signaled a move in that direction.

But I doubt it.

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