Racism as the old folks knew it, from Jim Crow through the desegregation of schools in 1954 to the present has been buried under mounds of Affirmative Action, political correctness, a burgeoning economy fueling corporate need and demographic pressure stemming from minority birth rates and immigration. For black people, we must give Dr. King immense credit for breaking the back of southern racism, a most vicious form of day to day terrorism. The overt racism of the time prior to 1954 that included physical brutality against blacks, confinement to heavily guarded ghettoes, societally enforced rules against participation in the economy and other practices which blacks knew well, have been ameliorated to a great extent, although not eliminated.
Affirmative Action was a very effective tool in ensuring that at least a few highly qualified black people had a chance to make an impact on the closed, stultified atmosphere of corporate America that existed prior to Dr. King. The black pioneers hired in major corporations as a part of Affirmative Action had a very difficult time, as pioneers usually do. Part of the difficulty stemmed from the fact that, no matter how qualified an individual happened to be, their white counterparts could discount the quality and assure themselves that, after all, the person was black and got in through the unfair-to-white-people Affirmative Action initiative. Such black pioneers experienced first-hand what it meant to be “The Spook Who Sat By the Door,” (Sam Greenlee, 1969). Clearly, Dr. King, the Black Panthers, Rap Brown and Malcolm X had a profound effect on the US corporations. Otherwise, black people would not have been hired for even token positions.
The apparent advantage of Affirmative Action could have turned out to be fool’s gold except for the fact that the experience of navigating the treacherous waters of corporate America was highly rewarding and provided excellent training. That allowed many of the pioneers to take full advantage of the opportunities provided in an expanding economy. Since the traditional media rarely focused on successful black people, the black middle class became strong and confident under the radar. In the early years, a proud, competent, no nonsense black would have been called “uppity,” a fool who has the nerve to thinks he is equal to a white man. But the success of the pioneers meant that highly capable, well-trained black people ceased being called uppity. They are now so visible, even without the media, that they have become a true threat to the facade that a segment of white people prefer to wear…the segment that desperately wants to believe that they are superior to all people of color.
When the brilliant and persuasive Barack Obama came out of the senate with an uplifting message, the nation was ready to listen and hope after eight years of the disastrous Bush administration. The young man clearly benefited from the lessons that the pioneers had learned and the path that they had blazed through the minefields of pervasive racism. The practices historically used to disenfranchise blacks, the open, wanton brutality were no longer visible. Whites adopted new, subtle attacks most of which are known only to the black target and the white practitioner. Since there is no forum for blacks to talk about their experiences, they remain hidden. Consequently, whites who chose to do so could gladly accept the proclamation that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 had ushered in a post-racial society.
The exuberance could not be sustained for long. The facade of superiority, worn so comfortably by whites for so long, could no longer be maintained without somehow showing that this man in the White House was dreadfully incompetent. Clearly, so the shocked bigots thought, the election of a black man had to have been the result of mass hysteria. Since the margin of victory was such that any charges of theft could not be supported, (unlike the elections of both 2000 and 2004 which are still dubious at best), the only recourse was to undermine the presidency so as to demonstrate to the world that blacks truly are incompetent and all is right with the world after all.
The woeful result has been that long hidden and camouflaged racism has returned to visibility with a vengeance. It is as if that segment of the white population that cannot tolerate the thought that the white race is no longer viewed as the undisputed master race now know that time is running out. The curtain has been pulled back. Their gloves have come off. Survival for these people has become bare knuckle, tooth and nail. As soon as the president was sworn in, Republican politicians and their constituents began to unload a veritable barrage of attacks. Mitch McConnell, minority leader in the US Senate declared that the Republicans would vote “no” on every initiative the president dared to take, regardless of value to the citizenry. He assured his presumably terrified base that the black man in the White House would be “a one-term president.”
The unprecedented behavior of the Republicans since then has been a history-making lesson in the extent to which white supremacists will go to prevent a black person from succeeding. They have shown that they are quite willing to bring down not only the US, but also the world economy before they will tolerate a successful black president. They have gone to absurd lengths in a futile, quixotic and self-defeating effort to prevent his signature achievement, The Affordable Care Act, from reaching the Americans who desperately need it. They have blocked every Obama initiative to provide jobs for a shrinking middle class and the rapidly growing ranks of the poor. They continue to make every effort to prevent help, even food, to get to the poorest Americans.
The modern variety of racism as a result of the election of Barack Obama has grown so much in intensity and scale that it has reached the point of insanity. The world watches in alternating bouts of wonderment, hilarity and grave concern.
The fallout from this Republican tantrum is that black people, as well as gays and women, are targets as much or more now than they were in the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan. Now, instead of the KKK, an ordinary white vigilante feels empowered to stalk, confront and murder an unarmed black youth on sight and, reminiscent of Billie Holiday’s “strange fruit,” to be acquitted by an almost all white jury. It is a testament to the patience, forbearance and maturity of the black population that they have felt no need to riot, as many racists had predicted, in the face of such an outrageous display of blatant, institutionalized and blood curdling racism.
Yes, modern racism is much in evidence since the election of President Obama. But, thankfully for the US, an effective counter has appeared almost instantaneously. Not only blacks, but apparently most non-white citizens as well as an encouraging number of white people have all shown a willingness to let the insanity play itself out. The excesses have been far too visible, just as had happened when Dr. King marched. The sane portion of the US citizenry seem to realize that the madness can not long sustain itself. Even now senior Republican senators have begun to show signs that they have had enough. The task of recovery will be extraordinarily difficult since they have let it go on far too long. But, at least there is reason to hope…again.
President Barack Obama promised hope and change. No one, including the president, could possibly have foreseen what those words portended. But, now we can dare to hope that a change is on the way, a change that will, if we get lucky, leave the insanity behind and let history record it as the waking nightmare that almost destroyed this once-great nation.