Racism is unfortunately alive and well

Columnist and Columnist

Growing up in suburban Chicago, race was never something that was hidden from me.

I remember both black and white students learning about Martin Luther King Jr. as a sort of mythical figure who was universally respected for leading the charge in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Maybe it was because living in that integrated community made me think race was no longer really all that important. Maybe I was too young to understand the greater implications of race and violence.

Perhaps it was my tolerant upbringing that fostered in me the idea that true equality really exists.

In any case, it was years later that I realized, as did all the kids in my community, that although progress has been made, the omnipresent cloud of racism is always over our heads.

Thinking back to my time in grade school, I’m sure my experience learning about the struggles of black people and all people of color differed greatly from that of my parents and grandparents.

Education is a key component in the fight against intolerance, injustice and racism. It is what shapes such a monumental part of our consciousness.

Our earliest teachers are our parents or whoever raises us. They teach us their values and philosophies of life.

This is also where we learn either tolerance or intolerance. Schools may be the ultimate equalizer in terms of teaching the same brand of lesson to all of their students, but it’s our authority figures (almost always family) that imbue in us our values.

That is why racism will not die on its own. Regardless of what public schools teach children about equality and togetherness, we all have free will. We have the choice to be educated or ignorant, racist or tolerant, hateful or loving.

Sadly, a lot of cases of racism either go unreported or slip under the radar of the media. Only the most infamous and gut-wrenching cases like that of Trayvon Martin ever make national headlines.

It was a story tearfully akin to the countless reports of lynchings of black youths and men in the Jim Crow South. Surely after the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement, Americans, regardless of their race, have a greater awareness of racism and a greater desire for social justice in these cases.

But if we’re in search of an incident of racism or a hate crime, we need not look any further than our own doorsteps. Several months ago, the University men’s basketball coach Louis Orr was the victim of hate crime in which several unidentified individuals took chalk and drew swastikas on his driveway.

In public restrooms from Ohio to Iowa, Georgia to Pennsylvania, I’ve read more racial slurs and statements than I could ever hope to count.

In 21st century America, is racism really less prevalent?

Or would we simply rather deny its existence in order to preserve in our minds the so-called “modern” nature of our society?

So when this Martin Luther King Day passes, and when Black History Month comes in February–we should not let times we reflect on the racial realities of our diverse society be relegated to a day, a month or a year.

If our goal is really to forge ahead and create a better world for our children, then we must fight for it every day. As Edmund Burke said so frankly, “The only thing necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.”