I cringe every time I hear someone say that "racism is worse" since Obama became president.
I cringe because it is not true. What is true, however, is that Obama's election brought the dormant racists out of hiding.
It seems that many white people think it's best to just not talk about racism; in so doing, they are able to say that everything is fine. Joy DrGruy calls this "cognitive dissonance." It is a psychic tool which humans use in order to engage in behavior which is really wrong or damaging or dangerous to one's self. Racism is dangerous to one's self, especially to the white self, because it is ugly and cruel and morally despicable. People have to distance themselves from it, and that's why silence is the tool used to deal with it. It is OK for there to be substandard living conditions for black people. It is OK for there to be excessive police violence wielded against black people. It is OK for the infant mortality rate among black people to be higher than any other ethnic group...It is OK...and if we don't talk about it, the sentiment seems to be, then everything is ...all right.
So, America protects its secret. It treats its big secret, its growing, metastasizing tumor, like anyone treats a secret. It's the talking about it that's the problem. Too many Americans believe that talking about "it" is the big problem, not the "it" itself. Racism is like America's ghetto, or like any poverty-ridden neighborhood in the midst of a posh vacation resort. If you cannot see it, you don't have to talk about it or deal with it. It simply does not exist.
When Obama was elected, people said we were a "post racial" society. That was a foolhardy sentiment from the beginning. Just because some white people voted for a black man was not an indication that racial hatred and bigotry were gone. His being elected was supposed to be enough, evidence that racism was gone. He had to distance himself from his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, in order to prove that he was the president of all people. People were glad. Our dirty little secret was no more.
Except that it was. The reality of the secret, our deep-seeded racism, was there, agitated and shaken from hibernation because this black man was in the White House. How dare this happen in this land which was programmed, via the United States Constitution, to be a white man's country? Some white people were glad and hopeful, but many were not. They were angry and insulted. There was a group of lawmakers who met the day of Obama's first inauguration to strategize on how to make him a one term president. He might have gotten into office, but by God, they were going to make him suffer for it and if they had their way, they were going to make him so miserable that he would not even want to run for a second term. They would fight him and challenge him on every turn.
Obama was dared, almost, to say anything about racism. When Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman, and Obama stated a truth, that "if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon," the "resenters" got busy, claiming his words were dividing the country. The fact that Zimmerman apparently profiled Martin, followed him in spite of being told not to, and then killed him didn't matter. Obama had better not say anything that indicated that this tragedy happened largely because Zimmerman believed a black child was out of place.
When Harvard Professor Skip Gates was arrested at his own home by police and Obama made mention that the incident was ...just wrong...he was again jumped on and accused of dividing the country. The president ended up calling for a "beer summit" where he, Vice President Joe Biden, Gates and the officer sat down together and "talked." It seemed like Obama was trying hard to show people who had no intention of accepting anything he said or did ...that he was a regular guy ...and had no animus against white people or police officers, no matter how wrong their actions might have been.
It seems that the only way some white people can survive within this racist system is to act like it doesn't exist, to ignore it and not speak about it. Obama ended up backing away from most things racial ...because he knew he would be skewered for it. In the meantime, too many white people, angry that he was in the White House as the President and not as the butler, angry that their attempts to destroy him politically had failed, seethed. They began to talk more about their resentment; they insulted and degraded Obama at every turn. Obama didn't make them racist; this system did. The president could not change their hearts, hearts and spirits that had been nurtured for decades by a system which revered and protected white supremacy.
When Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump say that the country is more divided (racially) than ever, it makes one wonder what they would do? None of them have shown that they know racism exists or that some things that happen in this country because of racism ...are just wrong. None of the current GOP candidates, save one, have said anything about the injustice of the Tamir Rice case. None of the candidates are admitting that our justice system is seriously racist and has been for a long time. Nobody is jumping on Donald Trump for his outrageous racism and hate-filled, racist comments. America's racism is front and center in the GOP candidates, and, frankly, it is sickening.
This country is divided not because of Obama. This country is a mess racially because this country has avoided the issue of its rabid racism for generations. This country is divided because it has created and implemented policies and procedures which are at their root devised to protect the control white people have had over black people since black people were brought here from Africa. This country is divided because our very Constitution, and our country's institutions including the justice system, reveal their belief that black people are not and never were fully human, and were not ever to be considered "equal" to white people. Staying quiet about "the secret" does not make the secret any less abhorrent, powerful or damaging.
The divide which is ours ...will remain. There are too few people who are willing to look this Leviathan in the face and do the work needed to destroy it. Perhaps Obama was willing to try doing that, but his enemies would never have allowed it.
Our core is rotten because because the seed from which we grew ...was rotten.