THE BLOG
07/14/2013 01:47 pm ET Updated Sep 13, 2013

A(nother) Bad Week for Race in America

I'm not sure how much more of this I can take.

On Friday, a respected local television news team, in a rush to get an "exclusive" on the air, inexplicably became tone and culturally-deaf (in one of the most culturally diverse markets in the country) and broadcasts, in living HD color, a list of the supposed names of the Asiana 214 pilots that were outrageously offensive and patently racist parodies of Asian names.

On Saturday, a six-person jury in Florida acquitted George Zimmerman of stalking, provoking, and killing an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin. The self-defense argument that the jury apparently bought would provide justification for any wanna-be cop/vigilante to engage in their own take-downs of perceived and racially profiled perps and, if they encounter resistance, to use deadly force.

If you believe the Republican PR machine (which, after Shelby, includes 5 Justice of the Supreme Court), neither incident is significant because we live in a post-racial American where minorities have made great strides and has all but removed the need for discussions of race and remedies.

Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Fifty years from the March on Washington, a year short of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and we have another death of an African American, whose only crime was his skin color. The only difference, it seems, is that rather than being lynched and hung from a tree, he had the temerity to stand his ground but brought only his hands and a bag of Skittles to a gunfight. Fifty years later, in one of the most culturally diverse parts of the country, a sophomoric prank bypasses, presumably, a series of checks and balances to make a tragedy the sick butt of jokes and offend an entire nation and entire communities in our country.

This nation needs to confront, in a meaningful and important way, the issue of race. Over 20 years ago I was asked by the Clinton Transition Team to put together my thoughts on important initiatives out of the gate. The first one I suggested was a national conversation on race. Post-Bakke, I could feel the coming backlash at perceived race "benefits" from many angles. Post-Rodney King, the gaps between new ethnic communities and the African American community continuing to simmer dangerously. But like many suggestions from bright-eyed idealists like myself, it went nowhere.

I made the same proposal 15 years later as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, but I was the only Democrat and, it too, went nowhere. (At least this year I managed to convince a majority of my Commission colleagues -- which is now evenly split between liberals and conservatives -- to initiate a nationwide investigation into whether racial bias exists in the application and enforcement of Stand Your Ground laws -- the same laws that initially let George Zimmerman off the hook in immediate aftermath of his killing Trayvon Martin.)

On a micro-level, it remains to be seen whether the family of Trayvon Martin will find justice in a civil court or with the assistance of the Department of Justice. KTVU will be investigating exactly how the racist parody names fell through the cracks.

But on a meta-level, these are just continuing symptoms of the underlying, chronic, disease called racism. As a nation, we've done a pretty good job of treating it in the past 50 years, but as with all treatments, a certain amount of resistance has set in. With an underling pathology that goes back over 200 years, it is as if we are still using broad-spectrum antibiotics in a gene therapy age. And until we figure out how to respond in new and different ways, we will continue to have bad days and weekends when the murder of an unarmed black teenager finds no justice, and when racial parodies make our airwaves. And I think we can all agree that is a state of being we cannot and should not tolerate.

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