February 24, 2008

Obama Campaign Could Force America To Address Race

Despite the best efforts of many, most Americans are uncomfortable with discussions of race and racism. Like many things with which we are uncomfortable, we tend to avoid dealing with them whenever possible. And yet, whether it is Don Imus' "nappy-headed hos" or Bill O'Reilly's "lynching party," the spectre of racism is impossible to ignore and flat-out delusional to deny. Might one of the effects of Obama receiving the Democratic nomination be that it forces us to have a much needed national discussion of race and racism?

When prominent media figures make racist comments, the American people are shocked. It isn't that we are unfamiliar with racism. Depending on where one lives and with whom one socializes, many Americans are exposed to racist attitudes and expressions of racism frequently. Still, most of us do not expect to hear such expressions made out in the open from public figures. Outside of the white power movement, most American adults understand that racism is something of which one should be embarrassed. It is something many seek to overcome and most certainly not a source of pride.

And yet, many Americans harbor doubts about their own beliefs when it comes to race. We may catch ourselves feeling uncomfortable around members of other races. We may become aware of our own racist attitudes, thoughts which we would never express but which might nevertheless influence our behavior in subtle ways. We recognize that modern racism is more covert than than the overt acts which litter our nation's history, but that this makes them no less destructive. We do not want to deal with our own misgivings about race; we would prefer to ignore it and hope that it just goes away.

With it looking increasingly likely that Obama will win the Democratic nomination, I expect that an increasingly brighter spotlight will shine on race in America. We are already seeing disturbing signs that the racists among us are awakening. I can't help but fear that this will only get worse. And yet, the true test will occur within each of us. Only time will tell whether we will be willing to confront our own attitudes about race or run from what could be an opportunity for growth.

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