Race Matters

02/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In just a few days, Barack Hussein Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. Few presidents in history will have entered the Oval Office with higher expectations or a more daunting set of economic and national security challenges to confront.

Barack Obama's electoral success was said to rest, in part, on the fact that he, a first generation African-American, did not seek to exploit or campaign on the subject of America's racial history. In other words, Obama "transcended "race by ignoring the subject, and discussed it only when forced to do so by others. Ironically, he was left to lift the burden of race and racism imposed by white society upon the backs of blacks for more than three hundred years. Nonetheless, many in our country take pride that America has seemingly placed our racial history behind us, with the so-called "baggage of the civil rights movement" finally packed away in the attic of history.

Implicit in the claim of Obama's racial transcendence is the notion that racial equality has been achieved, and that black people have little, if anything, left to complain about today. After all, blacks enjoy prominence at highest levels of the corporate, entertainment, athletic, and political circles of power.

Lost in this exercise of euphoric self-congratulations and back-slapping are the reports that in the immediate aftermath of Obama's election, gun sales sky rocketed throughout the country, along with a significant increase in threats to Obama's life. A lottery was organized in one community to wager on the exact date of Obama's entry into the halls of martyrdom.

Recently, three individuals from Staten Island in New York were arrested for having planned to attack any blacks they encountered following the announcement of Obama's electoral victory. Perhaps even more ominous are the recent spate of police shootings of unarmed black men. But for the omnipresence of cell phone cameras, these assaults would have been dismissed as appropriate measures of self defense taken by law enforcement officials in the line of duty. While lying face down in a mall with a police officer's foot on his back, Oscar Grant, who was unarmed, was shot to death for allegedly resisting arrest. The police officer in question claimed that he was reaching for his taser gun and mistakenly pulled out his revolver instead.

This incident called to mind the case of Amadou Diallo, another unarmed man who was shot at 41 times while holding his wallet in the air in his outstretched hands in an effort to identify himself. The police officers claimed they thought his wallet was a gun.

Perhaps the most dramatic display of what activist Dick Gregory maintained so many years ago about it being "open season on Negroes in America" occurred several years ago in New Orleans Louisiana. A black man holding a hunting knife was surrounded by thirteen police officers armed with semi-automatic weapons. Allegedly, they felt threatened by this one man, but rather than attempt to wound or incapacitate him, they instead unleashed a volley of fire, killing him instantly.

A few weeks later, another threat was released upon a small rural community when a moose started to romp through its streets posing a potential physical threat to any people it might encounter. The local police, rather than killing the moose, fired a tranquilizer dart into the animal, and called in a helicopter to safely lift it back to its natural habitat.

Blacks who complain about police malice, misconduct or murder are said to carry a chip on their shoulders. No, it's not a chip, it's is a bullet in their backs. We are urged to stop carrying the past around like a "monstrous corpse" in the cemetery. The time has come, we are told, to bury it!

On January 20th, when the first African- American President moves into the White House, it doesn't mean that we've entered a "post-racial" society or grant impunity to those who are convinced that it's still open season on blacks and other minorities. Contrary to what passes as conventional wisdom, the conversation on race in America has not ended with the election of Barack Obama. It has just begun.