Slaves arrived in America a year before the Pilgrims, and while slavery was eliminated long ago, vestiges of racism cling to American society like extra sticky glue.
Widespread, racially based disturbances in Cincinnati following the killing of an unarmed black youth by a white policeman in that city serve as strong reminders that the race issue still is with us. Indeed, the problem of racial profiling by police is so pervasive, blacks have coined the term, DWB (driving while black).
Images from the turmoil that characterized much of the 1960s have resurfaced recently in the trial now under way of a former Ku Klux Klansmen accused of killing four black girls when he bombed a Birmingham, Ala., church. While the bombing helped galvanize the civil rights movement, the trial is another example of how long it has sometimes taken to achieve justice where race is concerned. In Mississippi, voters are deciding whether to remove the Confederate symbol that's been on their state flag since 1864.
These discouraging stories are somewhat counterbalanced by forward movement on the race issue over the past few decades. But there's still much to be done, and each American has a stake in helping to resolve the issue. African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans have won significant victories - graduation rates are up, along with life expectancy, home ownership, and political participation. The poverty rate for blacks is down, and there's a strong, emerging African-American middle class.
As affirmative action faces legal challenges, a healthy dialogue has begun in the public realm over alternative ways of uplifting minorities in organizations. Court decisions about race-conscious policies for admissions at the University of Michigan have raised awareness about the benefits of racial diversity in schools. Universities may be a good crucible for sorting out this issue, but more public dialogue on race can take place in local communities.
All these racial hotspots demanding political or legal solutions point to one fact: It's the individual heart that must be healed of racial prejudice, hate, or indifference.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor