The idea that that we might live in a post-racial society -- a concept that became a topic of national discussion among the pundits after the election of President Barak Obama -- has slinked into a dark corner in recent weeks.
As the ashes still smolder in Ferguson, Missouri, after the failure to indict in the Michael Brown killing, people again took to the streets this week in New York, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia after a New York grand jury failed to indict a police officer who placed Eric Garner in a chokehold, which had been banned for usage by officers, and ignored Garner's pleas that he could not breathe. Garner was being arrested in Staten Island for allegedly selling cigarettes on the street and was unarmed. The incident was captured on video and clearly demonstrated that Garner was not threatening but was pleading for his life just before he died.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is married to a black woman, made a statement in the wake of Tuesday's grand jury decision about the "centuries of racism that have brought us to this day." He noted that protestors are rallying behind the statement, "Black lives matter." And the U.S. Justice Department, under the leadership of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, opened a federal probe into Garner's death.
Jon Stewart, in a response more stark than funny on his program last night, nailed it: "Damn, we are definitely not living in a post-racial society, and I can imagine there are a lot of people out there wondering how much of a society we're living in at all."
As one who lived through the horrific rioting in so many of our major cities in the 1960s, it is heartbreaking to see this latest outbreak of racial unrest in our nation.
If we ever hope to create a truly civil society where the differences of all are not only upheld and honored, but are mined for the variety and depth of experience and wisdom that comes from living in skins of different colors, we must look with honesty at how we are functioning as a society today. If we are not honest about the racial disparities that are central to our lives, we can never hope to eradicate them.
As painful as it is for our nation to begin to truthfully examine the tangled issues of economics and equality that define what it is to be a black man in our culture today, we can never hope to live in a civil society until we do. Becoming fully aware is the first step and, whether we are ready or not, the issue has landed itself front and center into our national conversation.
Civil discourse, now more than ever, can move us through this toward a land of true equal opportunity that was envisioned, but not practiced, by our founding fathers. It is time to finally and fully put into practice today.