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Mounting Racial Tensions ‘Resegregating’ America, Activists Say

August 28, 2007 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

WASHINGTON (Akiit.com) – More than 100 years since W.E.B. DuBois declared that the “color line” would be the key problem of the 20th Century, civil rights activists and race experts now say the problem of racial tensions are still so pervasive in the 21st Century that some have labeled it as a resegregation.

“It’s undeniable that we are resegregating education in a dramatic way and we are also resegregating or becoming more segregated residentially than we were. And so those things are clearly going backward,” says Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project of the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors racial hate activities across the nation. “I don’t think race-relations are doing terrifically well.”

Potok says what appears to be a rise in racially charged incidents publicized this year alone coincides with the rise in race hate groups nationwide.

• In January, the story was still blaring about comedian Michael Richard’s calling a Black man the N-Word from the stage in a crowded Los Angeles comedy club in November.

• Within a few months, now former talk show host Don Imus’ on-air “nappy-headed hos” insult to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team dominated the airwaves and the streets.

• Meanwhile, a list of racially charged criminal justice cases began heavily circulating. They include:

• The Nov. 25 wedding day killing of unarmed Black man Sean Bell by New York police officers, which sparked protests into the new year;

• The case of Genarlow Wilson, 21, who is serving 10 years in a Georgia prison as he awaits the state Supreme Court’s decision on his conviction of consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old White girl that happened when he was 17;

• The U. S. Supreme Court’s ruling against race-conscious public school assignments in Louisville, Ken. and Seattle, Wash. that sent a chilling affect over other such plans across the nation;

• And the Jena Six case, now at full throttle in Louisiana, where 16-year-old Mychal Bell and five other Black high school students could face up to a combined 100 years in prison after a school brawl that started with them being insulted by nooses hung in a so-called “White Tree.”

Coinciding with consistent news reports on such cases, Potok says the heated immigration debate that railed in the U. S. Senate well into the spring apparently exacerbated negative reaction to the racial climate. He says the perception of the rising number of Black and Brown people in America is directly connected to the rise in hate groups.

According to the Intelligence Report, 602 such groups, including the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nations, were documented throughout the U. S. in 2000. That number has now risen by 40 percent to 844 in six years, he says, calling it “quite a significant rise and a real one.”

Potok describes, “The reaction of very many people is that, ‘My country is changing all around me. This is not the country that my forefathers built. It must be because those brown-skinned people are coming in and destroying it.”

Actual hate crimes and attacks soon follow, he says:

“When hate crime gets the worst, it’s when the neighborhood starts to approach sort of a tipping point like 49 percent. But, once you get a significant number of whatever it is, Black people in a White neighborhood, brown people or whatever it is at the 30 or 40 percent mark, then some people start to feel ‘My town’s been stolen from me by these interlopers.’”

Some places, such as Jena, where Mychal Bell was convicted by an all White jury in a case with a White judge and a White prosecutor, just appear to be a fluke, Potok says. “The civil rights movement just never made it there.”

But, as the cases and the atmosphere of racism mount, activists say Black people can fight back non-violently – and win.

Activist, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has organized community marches in response to all of the most high-profiled criminal justice cases, says community mobilization is still among the most effective responses to racism and injustice.

“Unquestionably, the color line was not solved in the 20th Century and it is absolutely facing us in the 21st Century. The difference is there has been in the last decade those who are in our own community who have been tricked into going to sleep and thinking that the relative progress of a few individuals has changed the plight of the masses,” he says. “Therefore, it has emboldened racists to come back out of the closet.”

Sharpton says that those who criticize marching and having rallies in response to injustices are shirking what has proven to work.

“The civil rights movement worked. They changed the laws that we are fighting to keep…How did they fight them? They fought one battle at a time. They fought Birmingham and then Selma. And those battles have broad ramifications…So, as we fight these battles, we must fight single battles that have broad ramifications. For example, we fought one battle of Imus and the whole industry now, including the record industry, is changing the N-Word and all,” he says.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson agrees.
“The laws changed, but the culture keeps kicking back,” Jackson says. “We will keep struggling, that’s what we are going to do.”

Jackson says the period resurgence of overt racism in America is associated with the fact that an “undercurrent of fear” does not realize the benefits of diversity.

“When the color line is dropped you have more talent developed…I think that we are making progress, but we are swimming uphill. We are running, but we are swimming uphill,” he says. “There is a layer of change that’s significant and there’s an undercurrent of resistance that’s surreal. The undercurrent will take you down.”

While Jackson and Sharpton often focus on community marches, Dr. Julia Hare, national executive director of the San Francisco-based Black Think Tank, says mobilized Blacks could take other direct action.

“To maintain any kind of supremacy, you’ve got to maintain some kind of inferiority,” says Hare, a psychologist. “The people who put you under this oppression, why should they free you?”

Hare says Black people must free themselves by taking direct action beyond marching such as collectively boycotting and removing their money from banks that redline in Black communities and by refusing to deal with stores and businesses that disrespect or fail to hire significant numbers of Black people.

She says Black churches, under the inspiration of conscious Black preachers, could play a major role in organizing such targeted protests.

Hare says the same strategies could be used to mobilize Black people to “take over school boards” and establish disciplinary and academic policies that could spark progress for Black children.

Even as the perceived enemy is racism and White supremacy, another major problem in dismantling racist policies or in changing the racial climate in America can actually come from within the Black community, says Sharpton. He says high profile Blacks who try to marginalize racism in America or downplay it is doing the community a disservice.

“When they talk down race, they give a lot of White America a cover into operating in the dark where they can do what they want and it’s no longer front page and front burner,” Sharpton says. “Everybody should be saying what is obvious – that there is a spike in racism from decisions by the Supreme Court all they way down to a Don Imus… And anyone who is saying we are beyond race is deluding the public for their own edification.”

By Hazel Trice Edney

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