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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Are We Post-racial or irredeemiably Racist: Why Did Marcello Lucero die?

It is Wednesday night and I have just spent the day with some wonderful students at Keene State College in New Hampshire. The small college town is quaint and homey, full of victorian architecture and local-run businesses. The chilly 40 degree weather is dry and crisp and refreshing after months of Florida's heat.

I gave a talk/performance in philopoetics today at the University to an audience of college students, faculty and administrators on American identity in this "post-election of a black man" moment in history. I wanted to start a dialogue on racism in America by asking whether or not we think we are moving beyond racism or just becoming  more conscious of our racism

So many news reporters have hailed the election of Barack Obama as a indication that "the times they are a changin'" arguing we have overcome racial discrimination.  Meanwhile we have seen an explosion in overt racist behaviors and acts. The amount of hate speech generated at McCain/Palin rallies alone was shameful and frightening. And yet many people are full of hope about our racial future. The mobilization of people campaigning for Obama was truly diverse, transcending traditional race lines, generational divisions, and even political parties in some cases.

The rhetoric of many includes the hope that we are becoming a post-racial society- that true equality for all Americans may actually be around the corner- that the fact that we elected a Black (or biracial) man signals the fall of racism and the end of discrimination.

But at the same time there has been a rise in racist hate speech and now racist violence.
In Long Island, Equadorean Marcello Lucero was beaten to death by 7 white teenage boys for being Hispanic. They went our looking for A Mexican to beat. They found an Equadorean but that was close enough for them- they beat and stabbed him to death. 

A few months ago in Texas, a 16 year old Hispanic boy was beaten and sodomized by two white teenage boys who claimed the hispanic boy was trying to kiss a white girl. In that community racist Klan literature has been circulating for months in response to Obama's bid for the presidency.

Race-based hate crimes went down between 2007 and 20o8 according to the FBI which would tend to support those who contend racism is on the way out. Unfortunately hate crimes against gays and lesbians have gone up. Maybe we are entering a post-racial but iredemmiably homophobic society?

Was Marcello's death an abberation or a sign of regression in race relations? One of the attorneys for one of the murderers claims his client is not racist because he has friends at school who are minorities. Unfortunately stories are now coming out that the gang of attackers may have been involved in other incidents in which they harrassed and intimidated others. They're not racist though.

Racism has a tendency to morph. Before the Civil rights movement many white people were unapologetically racist I know because I have people in my family who were  like this (some still are). My white grandfather for example had a derogatory term for every racial group and used them liberally. He frequently and openly complained about all of the negative attributes of nonwhite people. He did not try to hide his racism.

Nowadays that behavior is frowned upon. Racists have gone underground. They are careful about what they say in mixed company. They publicly claim to be non-racist. They are down-low racists. Most of their friends are white and are racist but they don't think they are racist or they don't think anything is wrong with having the views they have as long as they don't air them publicly.

So there are people like my good friend's husband who is very racist (he has argued for example that all Muslims should be exterminated because they are all terrorists) but had recently argued that he is not a racist because he has on occasion allowed Black people to eat at his house. He knows he is not supposed to admit to being a racist but nobody listening to him for any length of time would consider him anything but a racist.

Since November 4th, I have experienced some kind of racist even almost every day.  I live in Florida- its the south- but I reside in a democratic county. But after four years living here there appears to be a spike in racism. People are becoming outspoken and rude.

I would like to believe that Obama's administration will improve race relations in the United  States but I cannot agree with newscasters who want to believe that racism is over just because we elected a Black man as our president.
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