By BRYAN GRAY
The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and not of The Davis County Clipper.
With her typically sarcastic wit, poet Dorothy Parker wrote about a “broad-minded” man, “He’s really fond of coloured people. He says himself he would never have white servants.”
Pres. Obama said it is time to talk about race, a subject most Americans – certainly most Utahns – would rather avoid. It is especially easy to avoid the topic in Utah — if we see a black male outside of Salt Lake City or Ogden, we assume he’s either a member of the Utah Jazz, a college football recruit or an airman stationed at Hill AFB. In general, white Americans pat themselves on the back when it comes to racial attitudes.
Yet we should not ignore Republican Newt Gingrich’s admission that race is a major component of American life and political consideration. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the civil rights-led March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s speech, overt racism continues to wane, but troubling incidents remain – on both sides.
The murder acquittal of O.J. Simpson still gnaws at literate fair-minded citizens. Similarly, the current trial of a black teen charged with shooting a white toddler in Georgia has anti-white threads.
But like Pres. Obama, I feel stained by the recent decision to acquit the man who admitted shooting Trayvon Martin. The case reveals the importance of racial division and attitudes. Whites generally feel that Martin was the aggressor even though the boy was only armed with a bag of Skittles and the shooter disobeyed a police dispatcher’s advice to stay in the car and not follow the black teenager.
To me, Trayvon Martin had as much right to protect himself under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law as the shooter. To blacks, the verdict was clear: black men in hoodies are not to be as trusted (or as valued) as white teens in polo shirts.
The case is confusing. Maybe Martin picked a fight. Maybe he was angry for being singled out for walking to his home. I don’t know what happened and neither do you, but we should feel uneasy about the white jury verdict. Furthermore, we shouldn’t condemn the President for saying what every truthful American knows: even though American society has made progress, race still matters.
So does race’s twin brother, ethnicity. We saw that last week in Utah when the chairman of the Salt Lake County Republican Party embarrassed the GOP by criticizing the heritage of India-born Sim Gill, the Salt Lake County Attorney. (Imagine the outrage if Gill had questioned the Mormon heritage of his critic. The Republicans would be bellowing about those “atheist cop-hating Democrats who scowl at Christian values.)
Yes, we have made considerable progress. In fact, talented and educated African-Americans, Latinos, and Pacific Islanders have a pathway to the American Dream – and in some cases, might even have a fast-track compared with the more congested avenue for whites. Yet we still hear complaints about crime tied to apartments and illegal immigrants. For instance, whites incorrectly believe that racial minorities constitute the majority of welfare recipients, a recent report showed that minority citizens are often charged higher interest rates on bank loans, and a few Utah financial institutions balk at giving loans to Hispanic people without citizenship documentation regardless of job and credit history.
Very few Americans are racist. However, race still matters. Fifty years after the March on Washington, we haven’t crossed the finish line yet.