Opinion

The creature called racism is still on the prowl in the U.S.

Crowd  moves in a symbolic walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. on March 8 to mark the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.”
Crowd moves in a symbolic walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. on March 8 to mark the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” AP

Shhh.

Come a little closer. I need to whisper, because so many people don’t want to discuss this subject out loud.

It’s OK if you keep your blinders on for a little while, as I understand that many of you don’t want to see the truth when it comes to talking about the most divisive issue in America.

Let’s take it slowly. First, we’ll just say the word.

Racism.

There. That’s a good start.

But now let’s agree that it still exists in a nation founded on the principle of equality for all, a country whose founding document declared that its citizens “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

From its beginning, the United States of America has been stricken with this dreadful disease, no matter how much some people want to deny it.

Having been born black in the days of Jim Crow, I guarantee you that I know racism when I see it, hear it, feel it — for its ugliness, piercing harshness and painful sting are unmistakable traits that cannot be disguised with all the makeup, code words and fake emotions one might muster.

It is real, and make no mistake, it is nowhere close to being eradicated. Not that it can’t be. It won’t be, because like a great family heirloom, we continue to hand it down, passing it on from generation to generation.

You see, racism is not innate, not a birth defect, not something you’re born with. It is learned, which means that someone teaches it by word and/or deed.

About once a season, there is a violent act, some abhorrent speech or some other tragic episode that forces us to acknowledge that this amorphous creature we wish would remain in our past continues to prowl among us.

We usually discuss it for a little while, pretend to search for answers to combating it and occasionally vow to change our own ways.

Over the past few months, a series of police shootings, including the one in Ferguson, Mo., pushed the issue upon us in a way that has made many people uncomfortable and defensive.

Add to that the recent report from the Department of Justice that the Ferguson police department, in practice, was rife with racial bias.

President Obama, during his speech on the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala., referenced the Ferguson report while also using the occasion to refute those who say that little has changed in the past five decades since police beat civil rights demonstrators on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

But the president went on to say “a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the ‘race card’ for their own purposes.

“We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial hisotry still casts its long shadow upon us.”

Shortly after Obama spoke those prophetic words, a video of Oklahoma University fraternity members uttering a racist chant became part of the national conscience. Once again, a mirror was held up to the country, and the image glaring back was racism.

As in days past, there are still people in this country whose own self-worth is determined by how much they can diminish the worth of others.

I know it well. Even if I wanted to, I could never forget the color of my skin. I hear from people daily who want to remind me of it, who want me to know that their “whiteness” alone makes them superior to me.

Those people are passing that feeling along to others, which means that the perpetual cycle will continue.

Bob Ray Sanders’ column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.

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