Eric Holder, the first African American Attorney General in American History, has created quite a stir when he stated publicly on Sunday that he thinks that a lot of the “level of vehemence” against President Obama was inspired by racial animus. The immediate response from many is that the attorney general was playing the race card for political gain. Since the attorney general himself is black, he speaks from a different perspective.
There have certainly been some indications of racism in some comments directed to and about the President. Newt Gingrich called President Obama the “food stamp” president and referenced his “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior,” because the President's father was from Kenya. I never understood Newt's comment anyway. Being anti-colonial is not a bad thing because colonialism has strong ties to slavery and racism. Maybe Newt was trying to praise the president. I doubt it.
Rush Limbaugh has stated that Oprah and the President reached their position because they are black. Glen Beck has commented that President Obama has a deep-seated hatred for white people or white culture even though his mother is white. Ted Nugent called the President a “subhuman mongrel.”
Anytime someone speaks about racism, especially African Americans, they are accused of playing the race card to advance a political agenda. Such comments are usually intended to direct the debate away from the real issue which is whether there is racism. Can you talk about racism without “playing a race card”?
Whether we want to admit it or not, our country is extremely divided. As we saw a couple of months ago in Overland Park at the Jewish Community Center, racism is not directly merely at blacks. Ironically, the white supremacist that killed a grandpa, a teenage grandson, and a mother was intending to kill Jews and yet killed Christians. Thus, all of us are at risk when racism is acted out.
Many are concerned about the influx of Hispanic children and women through the Mexican border from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Some 2,000 of the children came from San Pedro Sula, which has the world's highest homicide rate. Poverty, violence and family reunification are often cited as the main reasons by those who have come. Honduras has the world's highest murder rate, while the Guatemalan children are from extremely poor rural areas. The Border Patrol has acknowledged that many minors caught in the past few years were reunited with their families here and not immediately deported. It is a very difficult problem, but how much of the rhetoric is motivated by racial hatred?
There is also an undercurrent of hatred of Muslims in the United States. While the estimates vary, it is believed that there are nearly 8 million Muslims in the United States. I know people who believe there should be none. Unfortunately, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, have caused many to be suspicious of Muslims, but the overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country are law abiding, productive citizens and do not deserve to be painted with the terrorist brush. Yet, there is a legitimate fear that there are terrorists who are planning another attack.
Of course, hatred abounds around the world. We have friends who were planning to travel to Nigeria and had to cancel plans because of the threats to Christians in that country. It seems like there are many places around the globe where travel is discouraged or prohibited. Travel through the Mexican border is treacherous and there are many cities in Mexico that are extremely dangerous. That only serves to increase racial and ethnic hatred, and distrust, even though the overwhelming majority of Hispanic people in our midst are hard-working and law abiding citizens.
Racial and ethnic hatred is founded on ignorance and hyperbole. An entire race or ethnic group is painted with a broad brush for the sins of very few. The Civil Rights Act was passed exactly 50 years ago and it is unfortunately needed now as much as it was in 1964. Last year, five of the nine justices on the Supreme Court stated that key portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were no longer needed; the other four bitterly disagreed. The dissent stated that it was up to Congress to decide if this law was still necessary and not the Supreme Court. The debate continues.
It certainly appears that there is as much racism and ethnic hatred now as there was 50 years ago. While we have made great strides in eradicating this hatred, we still have a long way to go. Whether you agree with the Attorney General or not, that he believes that much of the harsh language directed to the President is racially motivated is a sign we still have a major problem.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org