Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Racism Is Still Alive and Well

This political season, my kids have enjoyed pointing out some of the political t-shirts, signs and bumper stickers that they see. They obviously have a bias that they get from me and my wife, because their politics are always right in line with ours. We’ll take full credit and shout “Hallelujah”!

One t-shirt caught their eye recently, and they asked us to explain it. The text of the message said this – “Paint the White House Black – Obama”. After reciting the words to us, they asked us for a deeper explanation about this slogan. I’ve looked it up and found that this line stems from a rap song by Ludacris – I’ve never heard it, nor do I intend to. Senator Obama has said that Ludacris is one of his favorite artists. If you want to see hatred wrapped up in a “song”, go read the lyrics to this rap entitled “Politics (Obama is Here)”. You’ll be shocked (I hope).

How do you explain racism to young children? Aren’t the days of the Ku Klux Klan and the Watts riots past us? Is our nation still enduring the hatred and baiting that characterized the 1960’s? Do we still live in a time where skin color and nationality make a difference in how we treat people? Apparently we do.

Make no mistake - the t-shirt in question does contain a racist message. Racism is defined as any policy that fosters the idea that there are inherent differences in race or culture. As skin color in this case determines a racial difference, it’s rather easy to conclude that the wearer of the shirt believes that there is a difference between putting a black person in the White House instead of a white person. It’s a kind of reverse apartheid, where segregation is made based on skin color. The person in question here is clearly making a stand for black skin color over white, as if that has anything to do with who should be governing our nation.

To put it in perspective, imagine for a moment that I had a t-shirt made up that said “Keep The White House White – McCain”. Could I get away with wearing that in public? It’s doubtful. I would very likely get negative publicity, and possibly be accused of a hate crime in our society today. It would certainly draw all sorts of negative media attention. But isn’t it the same message as the first t-shirt? Doesn’t it somehow imply that race has something to do with the election? Wearing either shirt or rapping the lyrics to a Ludacris song are clear announcements of racism.

Here is the lesson I am teaching my children. Skin color does not matter. Policy matters. Our nation should be judging our presidential candidates by what they say, do, and believe. Their race should have absolutely nothing to do with it. And yet, for a large segment of people (on both sides) it still does. I wonder where the polls would stand today if we had locked both candidates in a box when it all started and we were exposed only to their words. The numbers would be different, I’m sure.

The sad truth is that skin color still makes a difference to some people. White people still distrust black people and their ability to govern. And some black people want to make up for years of injustice by behaving in the same racist and biased way – only in reverse. They are acting as if there is a need to offset decades of racial bias by suppressing whites for a time. Many would not admit this openly, but a glance at some of the rapper lyrics that are so popular would tell us otherwise. They want the whites to suffer for a time, as penance for slavery and suppression inflicted on them by our ancestors.

If we truly want to be a nation known for its equal treatment of race, then we need to act that way now – not by offsetting the past sins with equal and opposite treatment. This election (as in all elections) should be about evaluating each candidate on principles and beliefs, with a blind eye toward truly irrelevant issues such as skin color. Would we disparage a candidate because they were balding, or sat in a wheelchair? Then why does the amount of melanin in a person’s skin have anything to do with their ability to lead? The clear answer is that it does not.