I believe that racism against African Americans in the United States is diminishing. Nowadays, you don’t typically hear about mob lynching or about race riots in the cities. You don’t witness the struggles of integrating blacks with whites in schools, nor are you reminded daily of the segregation of public facilities. The Ku Klux Klan and other viciously racist organizations seem fringe, crazy, and out of touch. In fact, when there is such a blatant case of racism it makes the headlines of nearly every media outlet. Such was the case when Don Imus referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.” Imus’s radio show was promptly suspended, and then later canceled by CBS as the pressure from Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, disgruntled employees, and irate callers mounted. Even so, many people criticized CBS, arguing that the punishment was too severe for his comments. Another racist incident, perhaps more controversial and substantial than the former, involves seven students attending Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana. Five of the six were charged with attempted murder when they beat a white student unconscious. Despite the plea bargains that reduced most of their sentences, numerous editorialists and columnists believed discrimination intervened in the justice system. In the Huffingtion Post, an internet newspaper, Byron Williams cited the Urban League’s 2005 finding that the “average black male convicted of aggravated assault serves 48 months in prison, one-third longer than a comparable white man” (2007). On September 20, 2007, thousands of supporters of the “Jena Six” marched into town to protest six black students’ indictments. This strong response provides evidence that any degree of racism in this country will not be tolerated.
Because our attitudes towards racism vary so greatly it is impossible to discern which acts are racially charged and which aren’t. For instance, when I drove to St. Mary’s College on move-in day, I noticed that one local home-owner decorated their bay window with a Confederate flag. I could not tell if this person was merely honoring their Southern heritage or if he shared the Confederates’ prejudiced views towards African Americans. Today, colleges are making efforts to highlight the benefits of diversity. When I was writing essays for college applications last year, I realized that every school to which I applied gave the option to discuss your experience with diversity. On their websites, each college claimed that they embraced diversity around campus through various activities, clubs, lectures, and festivities. From the examination of slavery in Kindred to the celebration of culture in International Education Week, St. Mary’s delivers on its promise. Higher education’s interest in diversity may not always be genuine, but their message of acceptance can only yield positive change.
Racism in America may not disappear for a long time, or maybe we will always find some traces of it. It stems from a long, ugly, and bloody history, but considering the Jim Crow laws were abolished only forty two years ago, we have every indication that we are moving forward.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.