One morning last week, as per usual, I woke up to read my hometown Boston Globe online. As I scanned the updates on Queen Elizabeth's handshake and Rielle Hunter's breakup, my eyes landed on a headline proclaiming what might be the most historic, transformational news of my lifetime. No, not the upholding of Obama's health care law. This headline was much, much bigger: Stain of Racism Is Finally Fading in America.
As a 41-year-old black woman living in America, you can imagine my visceral reaction. "It's about #*!^@% time!" But I quickly moved past that, because I couldn't wait another second to dive into a column announcing the sunset of white racism, written by my former Globe colleague and syndicated conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby.
We've been breathlessly forecasting the arrival of a post-racial society going on four years. Now, according to Jacoby, it's Jubilee time. "America's racist past is dead and gone," he proclaimed, and as I read on all I could think is, this is gonna be some funeral.
In a 2009 column, Jacoby wrote about the enduring hatred of anti-Semitism, calling it a mutable and unyielding virus that morphs over time, but never dies. Thank God for black people white racism doesn't work that way. And apparently, we literally do have God to thank: To hear Jacoby tell it, the recent election of the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., a black New Orleans pastor, to lead the historically racist Southern Baptist Convention isn't merely a milestone in a long and often tortured American story lived in black and white. Luter's rise is actually proof positive that this thing we call racism -- our original sin, the fire and water of this country's baptism -- is once and for all in our rear view.
"But for most Americans, what could be more unexceptional than the disappearance of racism as a significant bar to black achievement?" Jacoby opined. "... [R]acism has ceased to be a significant force in our politics, as it has ceased to be a significant force in American life generally. Racist comments can occasionally be heard, of course --"
Occasional comments? That's it, that's all that's left? I was so giddy I shut my laptop and immediately ran to the window. Oddly, despite the demise of racism as we know it, everything looked the same. There were no joyous throngs in the streets. No human chain of black hands clasped in white hands metaphorically ringing the earth. I thought about kicking out the screen and shouting, "Racism is dead, people! Put down your Dunkin' Donuts coffee!" Then I realized: I'm a writer. I need to start lining up interviews.
The very first person I would need to track down is Shira Scheindlin. Scheindlin is a federal judge for the Southern District of New York. Last month, she issued a ruling granting class-action status to a lawsuit challenging the New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk practice.
The tactic, which ensnared more than 700,000 people in 2011 and disproportionally targets blacks and Latinos, demonstrates a "deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers' most fundamental constitutional rights," Scheindlin said in May. What Scheindlin doesn't know, and what I need her comment on, is that from that day forward, racial bigotry was now history. "In light of the death of racism," I planned to ask, "is it incumbent upon the judicial system to continue doing what it has been doing all along, handing down harsher sentences for the same crimes based on an offender's skin color?"
Next, I would have to put a call into the FBI. In November, the FBI reported that by a wide margin, blacks were the most likely to be targeted in race-based hate crimes. Obviously the FBI has no idea what it's talking about.
The 2010 Hate Crimes Statistics report would have us believe that some 2,600 black people were victims of hate crimes that year. Who knows if that's actually true, but one thing we can be sure of is that with Rev. Luter's ascent -- along with the success of black athletes and celebrities Jacoby also mentions -- any hate crime numbers that large are going to be suspect from now on. (Sadly, the end of racism as "a significant force in daily life" came too late for an interracial couple in Hardy, Arkansas, whose house was firebombed in a 2011 attack that involved five perpetrators, four of whom admitted anti-black bias. Ditto for the black men set up by NYPD veteran Michael Daragjati, who was recorded bragging to friends that he had just "fried another n-----," and who last week was sentenced to several years in prison on charges including the false arrest of an African-American man from Staten Island.)
Speaking of successful black celebrities, I'm going to need to track down Oprah. Not because she's black, and not because her own improbable rise embodies all the contradictions of race in America. I need to find Oprah because her OWN cable network is tanking, and she has put all her ratings bets on the "Oprah's Next Chapter" series to rescue it. To my mind, a racism-free America is the next chapter to end all next chapters.
While we're on the subject of betting, let's talk about cards. Race cards, to be precise. It sounds like someone is going to have to break some news to Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author, blogger, and senior editor for The Atlantic, whom Jacoby cites as insisting "that America is steeped in white racism . . . He has no intention of putting away the race card."
Mr. Coates, are you sitting down? Here it is: You are going to have to find a new card to play. Actually, you're going to need a whole new deck. The jack of intractable-racial-disparities-in-health-care, the queen of yet-another-Obama-joke-about-monkeys-and-watermelon, the straight flush of black men into prison before they can get to college -- all those cards are gonna have to go. Racism is finally dead -- we won! Or as Jacoby seems to imply, you lost, and need to find a new job.
Race-baiter that I am, I may be out of a job, too (or at least a blog). But I think I know what I want to do with that time: When my reporting is finished, I need to make some serious apologies.
To the suburban mom at my daughter's school who found it necessary to segregate a pile of Disney princess napkins at a birthday party, removing every single solitary black Tiana princess napkin and refusing to distribute them: Although that behavior seemed like a racist event in my daily American life, I now realize I must have been confused.
To the UPS man in my driveway, who kept waiting for "the homeowner" in our affluent, semi-rural town while I stood in front of him: I understand. As you held on to that package and asked, repeatedly, you ... live here?, you were merely serving as my occasional racist comment. Nope, no lasting stains on you.
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