On the wonderful night of November 4, 2008, thousands of people, white, black, and Latino, gathered in Grant Park in Chicago to celebrate the election of our first black president. For many Americans, Barack Obama's election was the beginning of a new era when there would be cooperation not conflict between races. Finally the racial conflict which had plagued America for centuries would come to an end. Fat chance!
The truth is that racial relations now seem to be even worse than they were before election day in 2008. The ugly truth is that Barack Obama's election brought the bigots and haters out in full force.
The dream ended for me when I watched a Tea Party rally in Washington where several of the protestors carried posters that pictured the president of the United States as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose. Then there was the infamous incident when white Tea Party protesters at the Capitol hurled racial epithets at black members of Congress.
The Republican candidates for president have made overt and covert racial appeals. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a smart man who should know better, once said President Obama's views on foreign policy were shaped during his childhood in Africa. During this year's presidential campaign, Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum both urged black Americans to end their dependence on federal entitlement programs. Pointedly, neither candidate offered the same advice to the millions of white Americans who receive federal benefits. Former Gov. Mitt Romney criticized his primary opponents for just about every reason under the sun, but he never called his opponents out for their racism.
The Republican race baiting filtered down through the ranks. An official of the Orange County Republican Party in California sent out an E-mail that showed the president of the United States as the child of chimpanzees. A Republican mayor in California sent an E-mail that depicted the White House lawn as a watermelon patch.
The final straw was the tragic death of Trayvon Martin.
It's hard for me to see how Martin could have been a threat to George Zimmerman. Zimmerman had a gun and Martin was armed with a bag of Skittles. Not really a fair fight. My kids used to eat Skittles and fortunately no one shot them. But my kids are white and Trayvon Martin was black. The Republican indifference to Martin's murder is shocking. The Pew Center released a national poll on Tuesday that indicated that a majority of Republicans believed the media had pay too much attention to the Martin tragedy. They would not think that way if the victim had been a white kid.
The question facing America is whether racial hatred is getting worse or whether it is a rear guard action by people trying to hold back the racial changes in America. I think it's the last gasp of a dying breed of racial dinosaurs. In their book Millennial Makeover Morley Winograd and Mike Hais demonstrate that the millennial generation of young Americans, who will set the course for American politics for the next generation, is remarkably free of racial basis. And there's a good reason for this according to the authors. Four out of every 10 Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 are black, Latino, Asian, or Arab. Many young white Americans have black and Latino friends, a situation that has created a generation almost free of racial hate.
If Republicans do win this year, it would be a classic example of winning ugly. But if they win ugly in 2012, they will pay a political price in a few years when millennials replace baby boomers as the dominant force in American politics. Don't say I didn't warn them.