Sunday, November 16, 2008


I just read an article on Yahoo about a huge number of anti-black hate crimes popping up around the country, and it reminded me again of how entrenched hatred and racism are in this country.

I remember seeing the Watts riots on TV in 1963, and wondering why the blacks in Los Angeles were so angry, and why they took it out on their local businesses, burning and looting the furniture stores and liquor stores of the south Los Angeles area.

I remember being shocked at the disparity between the opinions of blacks and whites in the O.J. Simpson case. As I recall, during the criminal trial, some 80-90% of white people though O.J. was guilty while some 80-90% of black people thought O.J. was not guilty. I remember wondering how this could be so, when the facts of the case seemed so clearly to point to O.J.'s guilt.

The Yahoo article pointed out that the widespread expressions of anger and hatred against blacks is like when a man comes home from a bad day at work and kicks the dog. The dog didn't cause the bad day at work, but gets to be a convenient target. Likewise, the store owners represented wealth and power not available to most Watts residents, so they were the target of their anger.

The only way I could reconcile the disparity of opinion on O.J. is this: It seemed that blacks wanted O.J. to be acquitted because it would show that wealth and status counts in overcoming being accused of a crime, even for black people. That the black population wanted to believe that the reason so many black men are in jail, are on death row for crimes white people would not be in jail or be on death row for was because of economic disparity not because of racial bias.

If this were true, if a rich and prominent black man could get acquitted or a light sentence for a crime he clearly committed, as so often happens for white people (Nixon, Dan White, Charles Keating, Enron for example), that would give black people hope. Hope that the source of the bias in the legal system is economic, not racial. After all, we can change our economic situation more easily than we can change the color of our skin.

I for one am amazed and pleased that 52% of the population is willing to elect a black man as president. I take it as a hopeful sign that racism is waning, as significant a step as abolition of slavery and the 1964 civil rights act. Those milestones brought about open expressions of racism, bringing hatred's ugliness out into the light of day. Is it possible that we can look forward to a day when race is not a factor in how people are viewed? That a man can "be judged not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character" as Dr. King prophesied?

In the Yahoo article about race crime, someone was quoted as saying that racism is like cancer; it goes into remission but is never really cured. The racist response to Obama's victory has shown that the cancer of hatred continues to thrive in the Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave.

No comments: