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On the road to racism

POSTED April 10, 2012 9:59 p.m.

Lin-sanity may be ebbing, but a fundamental issue it raised is still on the rise.
Harvard graduate and New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin was recently thrust into the spotlight for his striking ability to shoot the game - defining 3-pointers and his overall long-disregarded basketball talent. Of course, equally publicized was how his brief rise to fame garnered racial taunts from some NBA fans on how an American-born Taiwanese could possibly have such exceptional skills on the basketball court.
Around the same time that the Lin phenomenon was unleashed, it was announced that the Supreme Court would more closely examine colleges' practice of race as an admission determinant after a white student rejected by the University of Texas alleged that the fierce quest for diversity on campus had exceeded the just limits.
Some folks may also be able to recall the tragic story of a Kansas City white teenager that recently made headlines when he was set on fire on his doorstep by fellow black high school students in a brutal hate crime allegedly for his skin color.
It seems that there has also been a revived interest in examining how racial discrimination has tainted our past. Last year, the winner of the prestigious John F. Kennedy Essay Contest, developed by Caroline Kennedy to educate high school students about political courage in the face of opposition, wrote about the late Florida Representative John Orr, Jr. The white Orr was mobbed at his residence and threatened to be killed after voting against a set of bills that called for continuing racial discrimination in Florida's public schools in the 1950s.
Sadly enough, however, the deciding blow that is sure to convince us that weeds of racial discrimination have recently been sprouting up is the tragic and highly publicized murder of the unarmed, black teenager Trayvon Martin in a gated Florida community. Concerned citizens have sprung up all across the nation with a rallying cry for justice for the victim fueled by mental turmoil over the racial discriminatory implications.
Coincidentally, President Barack Obama celebrated a screening last week of "To Kill a Mockingbird," the beloved book by Harper Lee that centered on the obstacles faced by a white Southern attorney rightfully defending a black man in early 1900s Alabama.
There is still ringing truth in character Jem's wholesome words about going against society's use of racial slurs and derogatory comments, "That doesn't mean you hafta talk that way when you know better."
Nearly 80 years later, do we know better?
I would like to think so, but with the sly "jokes" muttered every so often between individuals my age, I am not completely convinced yet.
Overall, most Americans would be happy to boast that we have surged past giving race a defining role in daily events. Clearly, recent occurrences are revealing a different, darker side of the story.
Why has America seemingly remained a Petri dish for underlying racial discriminatory attitudes to thrive?
Jim Wallis, author of the compelling work "The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America," suggests that discourteous and discriminatory mindsets will keep mushrooming unless we nip them in the bud.
Wallis introspects, "When it comes to equality and diversity, racism and sexism, I believe the underlying issue, and the most deeply felt pain, revolves around one word - respect...disrespect breeds more disrespect in return, which is used to confirm the disrespect in the first place, which further increases the resentment and anger of the disrespected, and so on. All of this leads to deep and abiding group tensions and regular cultural collisions, which only take the wrong spark and the wrong time to erupt in major conflict."
I would like to take this a step further. Whether the concept is just or not, whenever one acts, one essentially represents his or her age group, gender, race, etc. These representations generally form the basis of the misunderstandings that so often bog down our national potential.
Clearly, this is only reinforcement of the fact that the issue of racial discriminatory attitudes is far from simple, and its solution is in the same zone of complication. Nevertheless, the first step in alleviating the problem is recognizing that it is gradually reemerging.
Abraham Heschel, one of the millions of targets of Nazi extremism, once lamented, "Racism is man's gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason." Clearly, the challenge today is enlargening the minimal amounts of respect left to maximize our chance at a fresher future.

 

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