America’s Achilles Heel
If there was ever an issue in the United States that was both controversial and divisive at the same time, citizens across the country would place race relations at the top of the list. Indeed, throughout American history, the social significance that often surrounds the existence of race has always lingered in the background of any progressive achievement. Whether these achievements deal with economic inequality, career advancement, educational opportunities, or political power, Americans of all creeds, religions, colors, and perspectives have been taught to question how a government policy affects the many dimensions of the racial sphere. For instance, how will the introduction of affirmative action help the educational chances of poor inner-city African Americans? Will these programs finally bridge the pervasive gap between the “exclusive” members of white suburbia and the alienated residents of minority communities? More significant on society as a whole, can the United States Government and the private sector work together in the hopes of eroding misunderstanding between all racial groupings? While all of these questions are certainly important in their own right, it is the sentiment behind each question that fully explains America’s continuing struggle for racial harmony.
Like every brave attempt to solve racial problems, winners will triumph over losers…and the losers will blame their misfortunes on a “racist, Anglo-American” society. Although I fully admit that I have been sheltered from the tensions that frequently engulf race relations here in the United States, I can state with absolute impunity that our country is (and may always be) haunted by the frustrating aspects of the color-divide. White Americans will always feel a sense of guilt that their society impinges unnecessary obstacles on their Black and Hispanic peers, while minorities will continue to express their outrage over the white-imposed status-quo.
When Barak Obama was elected in the 2008 presidential election, I joined my fellow Americans in the celebrations of a new era in Washington. Although a supporter of the Republican Party’s basic tenants and an advocate of Senator John McCain’s presidential bid, I was hopeful that an Obama victory could slowly pave the way for improvement in the country’s racial domain. Perhaps an African-American president will teach “White America” how to embrace alternative viewpoints, both politically and socially. With equal importance, perhaps the Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native-American communities will come to realize that the United States is not the racist and bigoted nation that is too-often portrayed in minority neighborhoods. After all, it was the white electorate that propelled Mr. Obama to the White House over his Republican challenger. I began to imagine that America would magically transform into the free, equal, and democratic society that our Founding Father’s intended centuries before. My personal fantasies and the fantasies of my friends only increased when President Obama appointed a cabinet that was symbolic of U.S. diversity and cultural heterogeneity.
Unfortunately, with the president entering his seventh month in office, this great hope has been overshadowed by the minute change occurring on the ground. The hostile behavior that characterizes race relations in the United States has only increased in cities, towns, and villages across the nation. Minority neighborhoods continue to be perceived by law enforcement as havens for criminal activity. The millions of African-American children who are currently engulfed in the unending cycle of urban violence are often cast away by Washington politicians as delinquents and troublemakers. Parents working and living in these areas are often viewed with suspicion by police officers and passers-by… only enhancing the unhelpful assumption that these very-same people are dangerous to the safety and security of ordinary “hardworking” individuals. Racial profiling (while successful in some circumstances) remains a major problem in the minority community: all too evident in the recent media-coverage of a top African-American professor taken from his own home by a white police officer for the questionable charge of disorderly conduct.
Of course, White America should not be characterized as the sole instigator of racial tension in this country. Minorities are also at fault, some of whom prematurely blame all of their personal struggles on America’s racist identity. It has become all too easy for minority workers to invoke the “race card” in the courtroom, filing charges against an employer on the basis of false accusations and deliberate slander. There are many instances when an employer (be it a corporation, a small business, or an individual) is forced to settle out of court, hoping to preserve and protect his or her personal image from public cynicism in the future. In the most severe breach of racial harmony, public figures such as Reverend Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton continue to use the media spotlight to draw unnecessary hype on specific issues…only exacerbating the problem further between White and Black Americans. All of these acts, coupled with an already troublesome tradition between the races, not only hinders positive improvement and progression in the 21st century: it also escalates the racial debate to a dangerous and unprecedented level. If there is one piece of evidence that is constant in an otherwise adapting world, it is the fact that nobody gains when physical and psychological abuse overtakes intellectual discussion. I am afraid that the year 2009 is beginning to follow this course.
While opposed to a number of President Obama’s policies with respect to health care, foreign-affairs, Afghanistan, and Iraq, I give the president my devoted allegiance to his crusade on racial issues. It is time for Americans of all backgrounds and experiences to cast aside their political differences and personal disputes; uniting together in the hopes of advancing this ideological voyage against racial intolerance. As a country, we always speak of great strides towards racial equality. Politicians consistently evoke idealistic language, citing America’s achievements at closing the income gap and providing minority students with enhanced educational tools. Our Senators and Representatives assume that America has triumphed over the embarrassing days of slavery in the 19th century and discrimination in the 20th…all the while ignoring what is really going on between the many races, religions, and ethnicities inside U.S. borders. One only needs to take a look at the composition of the U.S. Senate to firmly grasp our current reality: of the 100 Senators in the 111th Congress, 95 percent are white while African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians account for a combined 5 percent. If this is not a symbolic microcosm of how faulty our perception of racial progression is in the 21st century, I fear that any attempt to improve the American experience is futile.
If there was ever a time to engage in constructive dialogue about America’s Achilles heel, it is now.
-Daniel R. DePetris