The Racial Divide Persists
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
America has been moving toward the tragedy that occurred on Wednesday night in Charleston, South Carolina since the day the Barack Obama was elected President. Whatever progress African Americans have made in the United States, especially since the Supreme Court decision in the Brown case in 1953/54, has been largely challenged in the eyes of many Americans since a Black man was elected President in 2008. Whatever concessions that many racists had made–in their minds–to eliminate the scourge of racism that is endemic to American society, was totally thrown out when they had to accept a Black man as President. It was this racism that continues to remain deeply rooted in this country, especially in the South, which exploded tragically in the Emanuel A.M.E church.
It did take several years of the Obama Presidency until this anger and hostility burst out in a rampage of anti-Black incidents beginning with the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida in 2012. This was followed by other racial bias incidents involving largely White police against Blacks in Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland; and Staten Island, New York, among other places. Now it reached the horrible events in Charleston.
The beatings and murders which emerged recently were clearly part of the residue of anti-Black feeling so pervasive and unexpressed in the United States. It was not only the events themselves which confirmed the continuing racial prejudice held by Whites towards Blacks, but it also reflected the difficulty that so many people still have in accepting people of color as their equals. The horror of this tragedy is that even if it is ultimately proven that the alleged perpetrator was mentally ill, there still remained many Americans who were hardly anguished by the shooting. It is hard to comprehend that on the grounds of the State Capitol of South Carolina the flag of the Confederacy—which to many is a symbol of racial hatred and should not be flown consistently in public anywhere—was not even lowered to half-staff yesterday as was the flag of the United States and the State flag of South Carolina.
If local, states, and the federal governments do not move more aggressively to combat the still deep-seated racial prejudice in American society, the Charleston shooting could well be a harbinger for future bias incidents by similarly prejudiced Americans when the country elects its first Latino president.