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Racism is far from dead or over

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If ever we were under any illusion about the role of race in today’s world, then recent events in the USA give us a rude awakening. Just as we enter the month in which traditionally, at least for the past half-century, African Liberation Day is commemorated, controversies raging over blatant expressions of racist sentiments give the lie to the view that racism is dead and buried.{{more}}

Curiously, these incidents are taking place at a time when some of us are trying to distance ourselves from the call for reparation, under the guise that that demand is all “old hat”, and that there is no need to rake up things from the past. If by chance we thought that the days of racial discrimination are long past, then we have much rethinking to do.

African Liberation Day was formally instituted by the Organisation of African Unity on May 25, 1963, as a day of international solidarity with the struggle to free southern Africa of white minority rule, apartheid and colonialism. Three months later, Martin Luther King Jr led the March on Washington to demand equal rights for blacks in the USA.

We have come a long way since, ending apartheid and colonialism in Africa, achieving independence for Caribbean nations and instituting civil rights legislation in the USA. The chapter of racial oppression and discrimination seemed to be behind us. Or at least, so we thought.

Currently there are two major controversies in the USA which reflect the degree to which racist tendencies still remain deeply ingrained in American society. Both revolve around odious and racist comments by white citizens, but other incidents, including the shooting to death of young blacks and responses to those incidents also tell the racial tale.

The 2014 National Basketball Association (NBA) competition is in its final stages. This competition, in which the vast majority of players are Afro-Americans (80 per cent) is hugely popular among black people in the Caribbean and beyond. In spite of the fact that the NBA owes its success to black players and coaches who make billions of dollars for mainly white owners, the iconic Michael Jordan, being the lone black owner, one white owner has been caught on tape as making very offensive racist remarks pertaining to black people. He was apparently admonishing his girlfriend for hobnobbing with blacks, the famed Magic Johnson among them, and for publicizing such links on social media. This owner, Donald Sterling, has a history of sexual assaults and refusing to rent properties to blacks and other minorities.

The other major incident involves a group of ignorant white farmers, reminiscent of the murderous Klu Klux Klan, challenging the legitimacy of the American Federal Government, refusing to pay taxes and arming themselves to protect their “rights”. (The members of the Black Panther movement were jailed, hounded, beaten and killed by the establishment in the seventies when they attempted to assert that right to arm themselves). Further the leader of this movement, Cliven Bundy, has had the effrontery to dare to suggest, in the 21st century, that black people may have been better off under slavery.

These may sound like views from the lunatic fringe, but they represent something far deeper and more sinister. It is not by chance that all these events are occurring while a black man is President of the USA. It is not by chance that the likes of Bundy get succour in the ranks of the right-wing Republican party in the USA; (how could Caribbean political parties, including our own NDP, justify association with such forces?). It is not by chance that those same Republican racists are spearheading efforts to restrict the voting rights of Blacks and Hispanics and to restrict their entry into the USA. It is not by chance that the Klu Klux Klan is reinvigorating itself, rebranding itself in Pennsylvania as a “neighbourhood watch”.

The truth is that racism is still alive and kicking, in the USA, but in Canada, and Europe as well. We still have to struggle to protect and maintain our fundamental human rights. For many of us, the USA is like a Mecca and many of us attribute whatever remittances or assistance we get from relatives toiling there, not to their own hard work under difficult circumstances, but as a privilege they get from the “God bless America”. The rise of racism is correlated to the fact that one of our colour sits in the White House. If African liberation is to continue to be relevant, we too, in solidarity, must play our part in combating racism.

Renwick Rose is a community activist

and social com-mentator.

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