Tuesday, January 20, 2009


As I rode a Bay Area train home from work today, I looked at a few young men---African-Americans with baggy pants and banger attitude. My impulse was to wax poetic. I wanted to shake them and say---"hey, homes, we got ourselves a black man in the White House! Guess I won't be hearing the "N" word from you guys again. Guess maybe you'll stop shooting each other up with guns, and drugs," but instead I saved it for my mother who I greeted only with these words----"So, how does it feel to have the first shvartzer in the White House?" I despised the derogatory word for black I heard as a child, the first profanity I learned in Yiddish, and fought against it as soon as I could speak loud enough to be heard.

We are a society that has maxed out on stereotypes. We are a nation in which the dirty lie of equality, and justice, has penetrated every pore of our body politic.

As a youngster, I was already maxed out on the ignorance, prejudice, and refusal to look beneath the surface, and the irony of any group of people denouncing another group based on preconceived notions that are patently false. There is nothing more shocking than racism stripped bare, and nothing more noxious than its denial.

Even those who were most virulently bigoted forty years ago have surprised us today by saying they are proud to be alive to witness the election of our first African-American president, not because of his color, but because he is a credit to the human race.

Appearances aside, hatred takes a long time to die.

We have come a long way. But, there is still a long way to go. Truth is, there are too many men of color on death row. Truth is, there are too many youngsters of color in our nation's jails instead of universities. The unemployment rate for black Americans is nearly twice that of whites, and though African-Americans comprise 13% of our population, they make up nearly half of those we incarcerate. If you are black in America, you are 8 times more likely to be a victim of a crime by another black person than if you are white.

It's time to put the "N" word to bed forever. It's time, too, to admit that until we have equal opportunity, and equal protection under the law, we are still a racist country.

There will be those who see the election of Barack Obama as confirmation that the time has come to dismantle affirmative action. They're wrong. Until we are stripped of prejudice, and every person regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, has the same shot up at bat, we are not ready to eliminate any program that works toward the goal of economic equity.

The youngsters on a Bay Area train are living proof that it isn't about aptitude, it's about attitude, and America's attitude shifted bigtime today.

President Obama can't fix everything, but he can sure give us a headstart in the right direction. And, does it ever feel good to be able to say "President Obama!"