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Racism In America: Alive and Well

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For those who view the American social dynamic in the most positive light, race relations in the U.S. have improved significantly over the past 30 years. Our kids have more white, Asian, and Hispanic friends than we did. More African-Americans own homes in 2007 than in 1977, and incidents of racial discrimination seem to have lessened.

But incidents like the one that happened in southeastern Michigan in the summer of 2002 should remind us that we still live in a country of varying skin colors, and racial discrimination has yet to be defeated.

According to a Justice Department report -- Wayland Mullins, 38, of Taylor, Michigan was sentenced to 17 years and three months in prison for violating the civil rights of an African-American family by attempting to burn down the family’s house.

The evidence at trial established that on July 28, 2002, Mullins and several of his neighbors gathered together and discussed burning down the home of an African-American family that had recently moved into the neighborhood. Following this conversation, Mullins broke a window in the family’s home, poured in a flammable substance, and lit the substance on fire while a co-conspirator, Michael Richardson, acted as a lookout. After the fire, Mullins and Richardson attempted to obstruct a federal investigation into the arson by lying to federal investigators about their knowledge of the crime. The jury found that Mullins’ actions were racially-motivated.

"Every American enjoys the civil right to live in any community in our nation without the fear of being racially intimidated,” said Stephen J. Murphy, U.S. Attorney for Eastern District of Michigan. “The significant sentence imposed in this case evidences that such hatred has no place in our society and my Office’s continuing commitment to meet it with the full force of federal law enforcement power designed to stamp it out."

A tremendous responsibility for African-American men is to protect themselves and their families from tangible and intangible incidents of racism. The first step in protection is recognition and the understanding that racial discrimination is still alive and well. Whether it's someone spewing blatant racial slurs -- or a bank refusing to grant a loan despite your excellent credit history. The crucial role racism plays within a capitalist economy not only affects wallets and bank accounts, but also impacts the psychological and cultural spheres.

In a pamphlet entitled Toward a Socialist Theory of Racism, Princeton Professor of Religion and African American Studies Dr. Cornel West stated: "It should be apparent that racist practices directed against black, brown, yellow, and red people are an integral element of U. S. history, including present day American culture and society. This means not simply that Americans have inherited racist attitudes and prejudices, but, more importantly, that institutional forms of racism are embedded in American society in both visible and invisible ways."

While glaring incidents of racial tension seem to occur less and less, we're sometimes abruptly reminded that being Black in America can mean the difference between justice and injustice. Incidents such as the beating of Rodney King in 1992 and more recently the case of Mychal Bell, 16, a former Jena High School football star who, along with five other Black students, faced 100+ years in prison if convicted of attempted murder for the December 2006 beating of a white student. The beating followed months of escalating racial tensions at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana which began after several white youths hung nooses from a tree in the school's courtyard to taunt Black students.

Many in the Black community dispute statistics that show an improvement in race relations around the U.S. -- believing instead that intangible discrimination is less noticeable and existing prejudices are ignored by the masses. Unlike the Taylor, Michigan and Jena, Louisiana incidents -- capitalistic forms of racial injustice are designed to keep the social, financial, and political playing fields unbalanced. These are the most harmful to Black Americans.

"Just because some Blacks become successful entrepreneurs, politicians, or wealthy athletes doesn't mean discrimination and racism have disappeared in this country," says Clark Solomon, a senior editor for Mybrotha.COM.

"White people who discriminate against Blacks these days do it in subtle ways. The "in-your-face", Jim Crow era where signs marked separate bathrooms for Blacks and whites is gone, but those who wish to discriminate have invented new ways to make themselves believe that Blacks are inferior. They may not call you the 'N-word', or stop hanging out with you during the company lunch break -- but they will always see you as a subordinate."

Whether apparent or hidden, African-Americans must remain vigilant and empower themselves to be better and smarter than those who judge them. We must continue to acknowledge that racism is a crude, debilitating disease for which no known cure exists.

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