How naïve we were to believe that electing a black president would bring an end to racism in America. While one part of our country celebrated this historic milestone, another part simply dug its heels in and moved racism into the closet.
Racism has deep roots in American culture, in families, among co-workers, and in communities. To give up racism is to give up family and friends, to risk rejection. To do so requires bravery.
Thanks to Donald Trump, racism has been allowed out of the closet. In a bizarre rendition of “I’m OK, you’re OK,” Trump has absolved racism by proclaiming political correctness incorrect. In this climate of hate, is it any surprise that black men are being shot by police for minor infractions, or in some cases, for no infraction at all?
At a personal level, racism is a way of compensating for one’s low self-esteem by using ethnic scapegoating, or in its more passive form, stereotyping. Fear plays a role, as well. It is human nature to fear people that we perceive as being different from ourselves. In a country as ethnically diverse as the United States, this presents a daily challenge for those with limited cultural interaction: they see the enemy everywhere. Older American cities still maintain neighborhoods with distinct ethnic lines drawn between them. Residents of white neighborhoods presume that ethnic groups prefer to live with their own. But did they ever ask them?
The way forward for America will take generations. It will take brave people willing to risk friendships and reputations, willing to challenge family members at those holiday dinners, and willing to reach out to people they might have once considered alien.
Yes, electing President Obama was a milestone, and re-electing him was a validation. But this was by no means the end of racism in America.
Illustration by artist Shepard Fairey