Racism is not dead

I consider myself very lucky that my run-ins with racism are few and far between. Growing up in suburban Maryland, my neighborhood and community was tolerant and diverse. My friends throughout my childhood and teenage years came in an assortment of ethnicities and races and the color of our skin was never really an issue.

Yet the ugly head of racism has reared up in my life a couple of times. I've been called "flat face" and I've been nicknamed "Caroline the Brown" and I've been asked why I speak English without an accent. Most of these incidents I shrug off as simple ignorance--but one example still makes my heart ache a little.

During my third year in college, I befriended a guy from Wyoming and we spent a couple of semesters in innocent flirting and bantering. I discovered one day that my friend had considered dating me but decided against it due to my race--and this discovery stung my soul and wounded my heart. I told myself that it wasn't a big deal and I tried to lock away my hurt feelings--but I couldn't. This was the first time I felt utterly judged by the color of my skin. I felt like someone had looked at my race and figured I wasn't good enough. I wasn't white enough. Suffice to say, I didn't talk to this person for a very long time.

Racism is still alive in our country. We can tout the rise of the black middle class or point to the diversity of college students in our universities or hail the achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But this doesn't mean that racism is gone or that it has been stomped out of our society. Of course, we have come a long way since the days of Jim Crow but the road ahead of us remains long and winding. Just look at the way some people demean Hispanic immigrants as "dirty Mexicans" and "lazy."

Millions of Americans look to Barack Obama as a sign that racism doesn't matter anymore. Indeed, the candidate has rallied voters from all colors, religions, and ages to the banner of his cause. But this doesn't mean that the Obama campaign has not faced a wave of racism in conservative states and counties. A story in today's Washington Post recounts the trials and tribulations that Obama workers have encountered as they canvassed across the country.

In Indiana for instance, one of Obama's campaign offices was vandalized and spray-painted the day of the primary election. In Scranton, Obama signs were burned during a St. Patrick's Day parade. And here is the clincher: in rural Pennsylvania, one man ranted that he could never vote for a black man and dared to say: "Hang that darky from a tree."

How frustrating. How disappointing. How very, very sad.

Yet I do have hope for this country. (The audacity of hope!) As the older generations die out and as the younger ones rise up, I believe racism will lessen and ebb away ever slowly. My own marriage is a testament of this belief. Decades ago, my union with a white man would have been illegal in some states and looked down upon in most others--yet people today don't even bat an eye when my husband and I walk hand-in-hand down the street.

We have come so far--yet we still have far to go. Racism is not dead. It is alive in our country and it will cling to life as long as people hold onto the prejudices of the past. It will continue on as long as we allow it to live in the hearts of our children. And it will continue on if we allow it to live in our hearts as well.