When then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois won the presidency in November 2008, I thought we had started to turn the corner on race in this country.
Surely the election of our first African-American president was going to put a dent in racism. Unfortunately, it was indeed a practice in naiveté on my part.
Whether it was a Southern congressman referring to then candidate Obama as uppity, or a congressman shouting out “you lie” in the middle of a joint address to Congress by then Pres. Obama, it was clear what Pres. Obama was going to have to endure.
I do not think many Americans, to this day, fully appreciate the Jackie “Robinsonesque” nature of Mr. Obama’s presidency. Rather than be a catalyst for possible racial healing, the opposite seems to be the case. Pres. Obama’s election more than a decade ago reminded us that there are still major mountains to be climbed in dealing with the racial divide in this country.
Enter into this mix FBI Director Wray’s recent statements regarding domestic terrorism in the form of various white nationalists groups and the future appears troubling. Can we become a significantly more racially tolerant country? I believe we can.
White Americans – which includes myself – will never be able to fully appreciate the African-American experience in this country. It is past time that we acknowledge this. It is past time that we recognize the uniqueness of their experience and stop trivializing it.
We were once again reminded of the hurdles we face when pictures emerged this week of three University of Mississippi fraternity brothers – who have since been suspended – two of them armed, posing in front of Emitt Till’s bullet-riddled memorial marker with smiles on their faces.
Till, of course, was the 14-year-old from the south side of Chicago who was brutally murdered 64 years ago, in a racial crime that stunned the nation. I simply cannot imagine what it is like for African-Americans to have to read about hateful nonsense such as this in 2019.
But, try to imagine we must if we are ever to make headway in appreciating the African-American experience in our country. Maybe I’m just that naive.