The Age of Obama has proven to be a fascinating era. On one hand, the presence of the first African-American president of the United States is such a powerful symbol of racial progress that it’s hard for Americans not to feel a strong sense that progress has been made in our national attitude toward race and ethnicity.
On the other hand, however, this in an era when prominent Americans seem to feel a sense of perverse freedom to utter any racially insensitive pronouncements that their hearts desire, often presenting harsh and mean-spirited views of African-Americans in the process.
In just the last few months, we’ve been treated to all manner of idiocy. We had one Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, telling us that young Black elementary school students would be better off working as janitors since they see no competent examples of work ethic at home. And Gingrich expressed these views in between his fanatical dubbing of Obama as “the Food Stamp President.”
We have seen a Republican congressman from Wisconsin, Jim Sensenbrenner, criticizing First Lady Michelle Obama for having a “large posterior.” There has also been the email, sent by a California Republican official and Tea Party activist, Marilyn Davenport, depicting President Obama and his parents as monkeys with the caption, “Now you know why no birth certificate!”
More recently, we have seen Michigan Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra air a campaign ad with a racist depiction of an Asian woman, in a desperate attempt to stir intolerant, xenophobic feelings.
Now, the public unleashing of racist views has even included the man who once hosted the television show Love Connection, Chuck Woolery.
It seems that Woolery offered some pretty strong racist rantings after a meeting with former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. As it turns out, Mr. Love Connection is a staunchly conservative advocate and is one of the founders of the political action committee RestartCongress.org.
Black and gay Americans, Woolery said, don’t need any civil rights or legal protections against discrimination.
“Majority rules,” Woolery said, referring to the Proposition 8 vote in 2008 in California, which is a referendum that barred same-sex marriage after state’s legislature voted to allow gay residents to marry.
“We were born with national rights,” Woolery continued. “We don't need civil rights. [African-Americans] don't need civil rights. They don't need them. They have inalienable rights granted by God in the Constitution. I mean, I'm discriminated against all the time. I don't care. It doesn't bother me. [I'm discriminated against] because I'm old.”
The insensitivity spewed by Woolery, the ultra-conservative champion of family values and Hollywood celebrity who has been married four times, is only a symbol of the era in which we now live.
We now live in time when prominent people will cavalierly make the most insensitive of statements, from Woolery’s maligning of Black and gay Americans and Rush Limbaugh's presentation of the president as “Barack the Magic Negro,” to Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly saying that “Whitney Houston wanted to kill herself.”
With all the racial progress that the United States has experienced, there is clearly evidence that there is a good deal of headway yet to be made. And, with the rash of race-based animosity that is on full-throttle display, it can’t come a minute too soon.
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