05/27/2014 01:57 pm ET Updated Jul 27, 2014

Racism & Bias -- Can We Pause and Be Honest with Ourselves?

There was a time when racism in the United States was defined by the shackles of enslavement and captivity. It was the most overt and vicious form of subjugation imaginable, and it was the norm for many years. As I often say, we have come a long way from the days of slavery, but in 2014 discrimination and inequality still saturate our society in modern ways. Though racism may be less blatant now in many cases, its existence is undeniable. If you don't believe me, just listen to others and take a look at the state of our nation for yourself.

Last week, Senator Rockefeller of W. Virginia made a statement declaring that some Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act is because of President Obama's race. As expected, he was attacked and accused of playing the 'race card'. But in reality, the Senator was simply stating the truth -- an ugly truth that many would like to deny or ignore. It appears that targeting the person raising an issue has become standard practice; and flipping a racist or discriminatory act into accusing someone of playing a 'race card' has become all too common. If we cannot even highlight problems, then how do we ever expect to have a genuine conversation about them and create solutions?

Everywhere we look, there's no denying it: race and racism are something this country must confront. And this discussion must include a focus on economic opportunity and equal protection under the law. Ta-Nehisi Coates raised this very issue in a piece for the Atlantic titled "The Case for Reparations." The caption below the title of the article summarizes the essence of the situation:

"Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole."

We are still living in largely segregated communities with inadequate schools and poor housing for minorities. Until Blacks and Latinos have the same opportunities afforded to others, we cannot falsely believe that we are somehow beyond racism. Modern discrimination is often more subliminal; with a smile in your face but with existing institutional policies that continue to suppress certain segments of the population. It is this sort of ingrained bias that begins to impact every facet of society.

Since the foundation of the United States was based on racial differences, we have worked tirelessly and collectively to reverse the ugly tide of racism. But much work remains. We simply cannot avoid having a real conversation about our state of affairs, nor can we avoid taking steps to create more equality. There's no reason why children in inner cities or rural areas do not receive the same quality education or opportunities as those in suburbs or wealthy neighborhoods. If we truly believe in giving all citizens a chance to pursue happiness and pursue their goals, then we cannot continue to marginalize entire groups of people.

Racism is such an ugly byproduct of our history, that it is still shockingly present today everywhere we look. Elliot Rodger, the alleged killer in the deadly rampage in Santa Barbara, expressed his own racism in his manifesto according to news outlets. As was widely reported, his manifesto includes the following:

How could an inferior, ugly Black boy be able to get a White girl and not me? I am beautiful, and I am half White myself. I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves. I deserve it more.

All around us, despite denials, racial bias and hatred are still very much present. And we as a nation must confront it. Senator Rockefeller was an unlikely person to raise what activists like myself have been saying for years, but he spoke truthfully and candidly. He should be commended -- not condemned. We cannot continue to deceive ourselves that we are somehow 'post-racial'. It's going to take courage to be honest about our challenges and create resolutions that can truly move us towards greater equality.

We cannot demonize those that highlight injustice; others will take our place and continue the necessary work. For nature abhors a vacuum and that vacuum is the lack of dealing with race.