It is not unusual at the newspaper to hear a reader or online commenter — one is not always inclusive of the other — question why we might highlight different ethnic groups, write about race and racism, or point out a lack of diversity in positions of authority.
We’ve done so frequently, most notably in the past year with an award-winning series on Latino voter suppression in Texas and a January project on how race is a part of the critical conversation African-American families have with their children about interactions with police.
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When I get those questions, I never had to reach too far to find the answers. Because the naïve or willfully ignorant implication of the line of questioning is that we are a post-racial society, and everything would be fine if activists and the media would just stop stirring the pot by pointing out when there are problems. And that’s flat wrong.
Saturday, emotionally flattened first by the spectacle of hundreds of white supremacists marching on a Virginia town, then a horrifying video of one of those racists speeding a car into a crowd with deadly intent, and finally, seeing a beloved colleague have to bear a racist onslaught on Facebook from a man he once considered a friend, I had to wonder if there’s anyone left who would like to claim that racism is not alive and well and thriving in our country.
It doesn’t just lurk beneath the surface, with subtle differences in the way people are hired or children are disciplined or apartments are leased or families are coaxed or pushed out of gentrified neighborhoods. It marches boldly on a quiet college town, carrying torches and shields. It denigrates Mexicans by describing the many with the actions of the very few. It conflates the Muslim faith with extremism.
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If there is a silver lining, it is this: We now know better who the enemy is, whether it’s the white nationalist throngs emboldened enough to march in public, or the co-worker who rails against diversity in the workplace, or the neighbor who crows that the Mexicans need to go back home, or the uncle who says things were just fine until those Black Lives Matter folks showed up.
These enemies are enemies of the American ideal of equality, which we’ve never quite lived up to as a country but should never disregard.
Many a therapist would say that part of recovery is acknowledging the problem to begin with — and yet informed and educated people continue to deny there is an issue to be addressed. They shrug their shoulders and say there will always be racism or they claim it goes both ways or, worst of all, they say America’s atrocities – slavery, genocidal attacks on Native Americans, detention of Japanese Americans, exploitation of Mexican-Americans for labor without rights – are long behind us, and it’s time for minorities to ‘”get over it.”
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Given the events of the past week and the complacency of so many, is there any question now that people of color and non-Christian religions in our country are facing hate that is real? Please don’t suggest there were good people among the crowds protesting Confederate statues in Charlottesville. “Fine people” don’t accidentally find themselves marching in company with Nazis and the KKK.
The hate directed toward people of color is real and scary — and cannot be tolerated.
And those of us born of a lighter skin tone and Northern European ethnic origin can never fully understand the impact of living with this racism every day for a lifetime — and many generational lifetimes before. But we can do our best to try to understand it, and we can stand against that racism. And here at the newspaper, we can and will write about that racism, because it can’t be allowed to slink back into the shadows intact to grow even stronger.