Below these visible eruptions over race and even more important for the future is the double-edged story of Barack Obama. Yes, we have elected and reelected an African-American president, but how much of the hatred and bitterness directed at him comes, not from his policies and persona, but his race?
Nearing 90, I can’t erase memories of racism when I was a young editor—-the murders of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers and Andrew Goodman; Martin Luther King and the Montgomery bus strike; the Supreme Court school desegregation of 1954; the persistence of laws against interracial marriage until the 1960s; the steady but very slow progress of integration in the North and South in the ensuing decades.
Through all of that, I was a journalist with strong feelings about what Dr. King called the arc of the universe bending toward justice. And if we still argue today about college quotas and the bizarre murder of a black teenager in Florida, have we not nevertheless progressed from those benighted days?
Whatever the outcomes of this week’s legal tests, the important issue that plagues current generations is facing our true feelings about Barack Obama.
As his adversaries, with the reflexive complicity of the media, fail to engage in “nuanced debate” over policy issues, real and trumped-up of his second term, do we do ourselves any service by not asking: How much of the GOP vitriol and Tea Party longing for the supposedly good old days is rooted in racism?
We have come a long way from the days of separate-but-equal and lynching, but under the surface of the polite legal arguments this week in courts high and low, how far are we from those days in our hearts?
If we don’t answer that now, we’ll keep paying a high price for our failure in the future.