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What a sad truth

Bill Brink | Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Racism in America isn’t any more curable now than it was 30 years ago.

For those of you who read “racism” and flipped to the comics, bear with me. Just wanted to grab your attention. Because what I recently saw made me reverse any optimism I had about the progress we have made in this country. The following is not a sick joke; it actually happened.

Over spring break, at a large southern state university, I watched a college student tie a piece of rope around the neck of an African-American Barbie doll, tie the other end to a ceiling fan and turn it on, to raucous laughter of most others in the room.

Anyone who says racism is gone is absolutely kidding themselves.

This incident told me two things. First, no amount of sensitivity training can eradicate racism set deep enough into a personality to inspire something like this. (Although I didn’t have the priviledge of witnessing this, the guy claimed he rigged lysol and a lighter together to blow-torch the doll’s face as well). He must think this was funny because no one told him otherwise. He must have grown up in a society that, even if it didn’t condone it, certainly didn’t prohibit this type of behavior. Unless the stem of the problem is removed, manifestations like this will occur.

Second, the twisted humor was infectious. Most people in the room who didn’t break into laughter fell into slack-jawed shock and let loose a “That’s terrible,” or something along those lines. As time passed, however, their faces slowly broke into sheepish smiles, and they became more and more amused.

Some might see this as a harmless college prank, egged on by alcohol and an audience. It may be relatively harmless in the privacy of an apartment, but what happens if it becomes public? Anyone remember the Jena Six?

Others may fault me for making a sweeping generalization about a country based on one incident. Perhaps this was just an isolated incident; this guy’s family and upbringing was an exception to the rule. But I don’t buy that, and I bet many other people don’t either. I know people who refer to people by their race as though that is the most important characteristic about them. And it’s not usually done tastefully. Then again, can it ever be done tastefully?

As long as racism goes unchecked during childhood, people will continue to become racists. It may seem harmless when a doll takes the brunt of the suffering, but if a person becomes the target, it represents a continuing problem in this country.

It goes deeper than whether someone can catch a taxi or not. As I sat there watching, my mind racing in disbelief, I realized the true extent of the problem. I was asleep to this issue, and watching what I did woke me with a start. It is sown underneath the soil of our society, and the only way to remove it is to dig it out, seed by seed.