Does racism still exist?
Determining whether or not racism is as prevalent today as it once was
Entering our second consecutive presidential term with an African American at the helm, to some it may seem that our country is making great strides in overcoming the racism and prejudice that, for so many years, ran rampant in our country. Is this the case though, or was the outcome of the past two elections just a small ray of sunshine, shining down on a still dismal racial horizon?
In 1619 the first slave ships arrived, delivering African Americans to the colony of Jamestown, Virginia. Their purpose was to assist in the tobacco crops and such. The American Civil War (from 1861-1865) was fought in response to an abolitionist movement in the North. Slavery was immensely popular in the southern states; however, the northern neighbors were more progressive in their thoughts and feelings towards a race of people who were brought unwillingly by ship and traded like animals, with little or no regard to their personal well-being.
While the outcome of the Civil War was in the Unions favor and technically resulted in freeing the 4 million enslaved peoples, the Recontruction Era (1865-1877) still was frought with setbacks for the African American peoples. "Black Codes" set by southern leaders to control the behavior and labor of the former slaves, further enraged the Radical Republicans of the North. The war may have been won, but the battle was still far from over.
The outrage resulting from these restrictions fed the Radical Reconstruction era (1867), which saw African Americans gaining a voice in government for the first time ever. With their elections to state legislature and even congress, it appeard the movement was gaining momentum and the horrific past could finally be nothing more than a memory.
Reactionary forces, such as the Ku Klux Klan, instead worked diligently to bring this momentum to a screeching halt. Finally, after nearly 100 more years of oppression and ignorance by many Americans, as well as the bloodshed of many innocent African Americans, the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's successfully worked to desegregate society and take firm steps in eradicating the hatred and false superiority many white Americans held in response to blacks place in society.
Fast forward 50 more years. President Barack Obama has just completed the oath required to officiate his second presidential term. In the crowd are hundreds of thousands of supporters, of all races and socio-economic backgrounds. Of course there are those non-supporters and firm Republicans who were disappointed in the outcome of his re-election. "The disappointment stems more from our political views than his racial background", many nay-sayers are quick to point out.
After all, Herman Cain was a strong and viable black candidate for the Republican nomination earlier in his bid for the White House in 2011. Before scandal brought a screeching halt to his run, he was considered immensely popular, especially by his fellow tea-party activists. We also can not forget African American Condoleeza Rice. She proudly served as US Secretary of State during President George W. Bush's second term. Or how about Colin Powell, the Secretary of State during the same presidents first term and the first black Joint Chief of Staff.
But even with these and other major African American political players, radical anti-immigration and "white supremacists" groups such as the Ku Klux Klan are still very much around. It is estimated that in 2012, there were between 3,000 and 5,000 members.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Centers website, in 2010 "the number of active hate groups in the United States topped 1,000 for the first time and the antigovernment “Patriot” movement expanded dramatically for the second straight year as the radical right showed continued explosive growth ". The largest groups focus on anti-government, nativist extremists rallying against immigration and hate groups focused on issues such as anti-gay movements and demonstrations.
Also noted in the SPLC report were "neo-Nazis, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, Klansmen and black separatists. Other hate groups on the list target gays or immigrants, and some specialize in producing racist music or propaganda denying the Holocaust".
Although we have come very far in the 394 years since the first slave ships set sail for America, the truth is that we still very much face setbacks and downfalls in the fight to fully eradicate the hatred and bigotry which has plagued our country.
Racism on the web and in society
Take a look at comment boards after news stories which feature stories on crimes committed by non-caucasions on public websites such as Yahoo! and Google. A large majority of the commenters address their views on racism by making petty and ignorant comments regarding their disapproval and lack of surprise for the suspects race.
While the First Amendment does protect all US citizens freedom of speech and as such, they are not breaking any laws by stating their personal opinions, is there a point where the line should be drawn? How can we ever expect to fully move past racism and leave it behind for good if our young and impressionable children and teens are so easily and widely subjected to these views?
Racism and hatred are undoubtedly learned traits. Many toddlers do not understand the concept of why people have different skin tones; however, research has shown that some do react differently to opposite skin tones. Add to this innate trait your families reactions towards the same opposing races, and you very easily can create a racially confused child, who may be in danger themselves of becoming racist in later years.
My Personal Experiences with racism
Being raised in a small southern town, where at the time caucasions made up a vast percentage of the entire population, I witnessed firsthand the racist views of many families. Having moved to this town in the fourth grade from a far larger and more racially progressive city, I never paid a second thought to my peers race until moving.
I myself, being a mixture of three nationalities and, according to census statistics, being of hispanic race, had no idea I was anything other than white. Not white as in caucasion, but white as in, my skin was very light compared to some others, so when asked I should say that I am white. It wasn't even until I entered high school that I understood I was technically hispanic, even though I could speak no spanish.
At the time, this lighter skin tone made it relatively easier for me to fit in with many of my peers, as some did have families who had passed down from generations earlier a fondness for hate groups such as the KKK or just regularly used racial slurs in the home environment. While I was not prejudice and always maintained friendships with people of all races, for many years the majority of my friendships were with southern, caucasion children whose families were proud of their heritage and gladly coined themselves "rednecks" or regularly touted their "southern pride".
By high school I found myself relating and spending more time with my hispanic peers, although I still maintained friendships with many of the same caucasions, as well as African Americans. I dated mostly white or latin boys because I was under the impression that it was more socially acceptable.
In my first year of college I found myself attracted for the first time to a black skinned boy. I was very interested in dating him, although I was a little nervous about telling my parents and grandparents. When I finally did, I was pleased to realize that only my father had some slight reservations about the interracial relationship. This did bring about questions though, as my father was the hispanic parent and himself, had been subjected to racism in his younger days growing up in the Bronx. The stigma he carried about the relationship was a direct response to the hatred he experienced. His biggest fear were others judging me and in turn, holding me back from fulfilling my dreams and pursuits because of who I was dating. Thankfully, this was an easy barrier to overcome and at the current moment, he has two grandsons whose mother is of Mexican descent and a granddaughter whose mother is of African American descent.
About a year after my first interracial relationship, I was dating another African American boy. He accompanied me to my brothers high schoolgraduation, along with the majority of my immediate family. While heading onto the football field after the ceremony, along with the hundreds of other family members, I ran into an old friend of mine from my earlier high school days. He was caucasion and one of the peers from the more prejudiced families. I will never forget when he said quietly to me as I walked past him "I can't believe you now". It was a direct response to my choice of boyfriend.
While I was upset that he would have the nerve to say that to me, I was saddened when I realized that it really didn't surprise me coming from him. Thankfully, instead of making me more self-conscious about my choice in a partner, I was more determined than ever to not allow what others may think of these choices affect my then current or future relationships.
Watching my niece and nephews grow up and interact with each other, as well as with their peers, I am proud that they have such a vast racial make-up and do not seem to be concerned with the race of their cousins parents and other family members. Of course they are all still very young and have their entire lives ahead of them to witness the hatred and racism still prevalent in society. I can only hope and pray that they remain as unfazed and unaffected by societal pressures that may face them in the decades ahead.