Since 1903, a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus has been engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty and a plaque has greeted millions of immigrants and tourists who have come to the main gateway of the United States of America.
Yet, in 2013, one hundred and ten years after it’s inscription, America still can’t live up to her message. It’s like going to someone’s house, walking up the steps, seeing a “welcome” map, then the homeowners hit a trap door button and you’re shot down through the floor into a den of snakes, hissing hatred.
If “sports is life in a microcosm”, as the late Howard Cosell once said, then these three stories say a lot about the state of race relations in America.
In Brooklyn’s Coney Island, vandals wrote words and symbols disparaging black people and Jews on a statue of former Brooklyn Dodgers Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson. It commemorates a moment when Reese put his arm around Robinson in 1949, breaking the color barrier in baseball.
In San Francisco, the city that’s supposedly so open-minded and free, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly calls it a “communist place”, during a baseball game between the local Giants and the Baltimore Orioles, a white man allegedly threw a banana at black Orioles centerfielder, Adam Jones. Jones tweeted the incident. The hate and racism denial tweets that followed were stomach churning.
And finally, this one if so gross, it’s one of the hardest stories I’ve ever read, much less typed, in Missouri, at a state fair rodeo event, a white man dressed as a rodeo clown, slipped on a mask of President Barack Obama and asked the crowd if they wanted to “have Obama run down by a bull”. This nasty spectacle went on for over fifteen minutes as a majority of the crowd cheered.
While this may constitute, to some of you, just a slightly bad week for white people and racial attitudes across the fruited plane, they say something more to me.
The United States is not the greatest country in the world. We’re better than some, closer to others than we think. But post-racial America is a joke, a lie, and more of a fairytale the likes of Pinocchio.
Self-awareness is a virtue. Few individuals have it and thus, no nations seem to even come close to possessing it’s power. The George Zimmerman verdict saw 80 percent of white people say race played no factor versus 80 percent of non-white people who said race was a factor. Our race problem is awful and the failure for some, especially those in positions of power to discuss it and work to solve it, is frightening.
After the Zimmerman verdict, I was bombarded with criticism for calling out white people for being blind to certain issues. I should’ve changed my Twitter handle to @WhiteGuiltDude because of that phrase tossed my way. But things are bad in this country concerning race, immigration and attitudes against homosexuals and women. Poor and huddled masses? Not in you live in the south, because of the legislation being passed, it sounds like folks in Texas, North Carolina and my home state of Georgia think that Statue of Liberty chick is dumb.
But two incidents of hatred listed above happened in three areas of the country associated with more progressive attitudes, San Francisco and New York.
Malcolm X once said “You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.” Then he got shot.
Bill Hicks once said “I believe it is our own misperceptions of who we really are that leads to every self-created hell you’ll find in this world.”
These two great minds were onto something that few people, in or out of the media seem to understand: We all suck, let’s try, together, to suck less.
The first two racial incidents I listed from last week can be written off as isolated jerks. It may be impossible to track down the vandals and even if the San Francisco Giants AT&T Park officials review security tapes and track down that pig and ban him from ever attending games, great. But the last one, a full house rodeo where the majority of patrons cheered a racist skit disrespecting a sitting President? Well, white guilt will trump bigotry apologizing any day.
We can do better. I know the late Patrick Swayze and his surfer crew robbed banks in President masks in Point Break, but a) that was a movie, a great movie, but a movie nonetheless and b) those Presidents were out of office and all white guys. Exposing bigotry, calling it out, ostracizing those who do it, and then working together is how we get better. That means when Rush Limbaugh gets on his 23 million listener radio show and calls Trayvon Martin and Rachel Jental n-bombs and makes fun of their backgrounds, lefties AND righties have to stop listening to him and make sure the GOP power structure stops propping him up. When Al Sharpton race baits and ambulance chases, righties AND lefties have to do the same to him.
That big green gal in the harbor is gorgeous. But it’s time we, Americans of all color, stop making her look stupid.
Lance Burson is a writer living in Atlanta, Georgia. His Twitter handle is actually @TLanceB. He’s a published author of two books, The “Ballad of Helene Troy” and “Soul To Body”, available digitally on Amazon.com/kindle and in paperback from Lulu.com.