Jen Chau, Founder and Executive Director of Swirl, Inc.
April 10, 2009
Imagine swastikas and racial epithets spray-painted on your car right outside of your home. It’s scary and very upsetting. This describes precisely the recent hate crime committed against an interracial family in Los Alamitos, Calif., two days ago (Gleeson, 2009). As frightening and disconcerting as this is, it is important that we shake off our blinders and acknowledge the reality of racism today. We can wonder how something like this would happen in a “nice” neighborhood. We may question why these things are still happening when we have an African-American president of mixed heritage. And we could ask ourselves why people still see color.
Or we can use our time instead to try to understand how racism continues to function in our lives in this country.
Many of us don’t want to admit that this overwhelming problem still exists. Many declared that racism was dead in the days after Obama’s presidential win. Though change and progress are exciting, we cannot believe that racism has completely disappeared. Sometimes it is subtle and sometimes it is dormant, but we cannot be fooled into thinking it no longer exists. The shock that some of us display when a hate crime occurs is evidence that we as a people exist in severe denial. Yes, President Obama is in the White House; and we still have a huge battle with institutional racism ahead of us (e.g. the huge achievement gap in our urban public schools hasn’t magically disappeared yet; a byproduct of institutional racism).
We must hear this terrible story and feel challenged to realistically acknowledge and think about our problems with racism on the individual, cultural and institutional level. The shock that hate crimes still happen doesn’t help us to confront the problem because we are so busy thinking about the incident as a strange occurrence or an outlier. If we believe that these types of crimes don’t happen in certain areas, we don’t feel compelled to address them. Why spend time problem-solving around oddities? However, if you look at the amount of hate crimes that we experience in a year across the country, you begin to see that strange occurrence after strange occurrence adds up to a very real pattern. In 2006, there were nearly 8,000 reported hate crimes (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2007). The truth and the reality remains that racism continues all around us, still. We need to confront this truth honestly and realistically instead of lulling ourselves into believing that racism happens in pockets and doesn’t have a real hold on us.
In this moment, let’s follow Teri Barber’s lead ― if she is willing to leave her vandalized car in the street for all to see, we should be able to confront the truth of racism along with her.
Federal Bureau of Investigations (2007, November 19). Hate crime in the U.S.: New stats and a continuing mission. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/page2/nov07/hatecrime111907.html
Gleeson, G. (2009, April 8). Epithets painted on mixed-race family car. Retrieved from http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/orange_county&id=6752164