Is racism increasing in America?

Is racism increasing in America? – opinions of Hugh Price of the National Urban League and Brian Levin of Klanwatch

Dobie Holland

America’s first Black woman in space, Mae Jemison, is roughed-up by a White police officer. Black churches in the South are burned to the ground-14 in the last three months. There is growing resentment of the nation’s affirmative action policies. Newspaper and television reports are saturated with racially charged issues.

Is racism increasing in America?

“I don’t know if racism per say is increasing, but there is little question that racial tension and racial intolerance is higher than it has been in recent years,” National Urban League President and CEO Hugh Price told JET.

Price cited the torching of Black churches and businesses in recent months as outright racism, but he was cautious about painting incidents with a broad racist brush.

“What is on the rise is divisiveness…What’s also on the rise is a diminished societal commitment to inclusion as reflected in the assaults by the courts, referendums and the rethinking of affirmative action,” Price added.

Some observers would go even further to say the current trend of racial intolerance is a throwback to the Jim Crow era. From the 1830s to the 1960s, these laws separated Blacks in trains, in depots and on docks and banned Blacks from White hotels, barber shops, theaters and restaurants.

After slavery and the Civil War ended in 1865, Blacks experienced a brief period of freedom during Reconstruction from about 1870 to 1900. Blacks were elected to office, received recognition for technological and artistic achievements and appeared to be on the road to equality. In reality though, they were separate and unequal.

But the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan and a general apathy toward Blacks, rights led to those gains being wrenched away from Black communities. In light of what has occurred in recent times, history may be repeating itself.

When prominent and rank-and-file Blacks are constantly being detained or stopped by police on a regular basis, such as was the case with former astronaut Mae Jemison, who said a White police officer pushed her to the ground and verbally abused her (JET, March 18), it lends credence to the rise of racism theories.

The assault on affirmative action programs by government officials throughout the country is more evidence for the racism conscience.

In Louisiana, 6,000 Blacks across that state marched to the Governor’s Mansion in protest of Gov. Mike Foster’s position against affirmative action (JET, March 11).

In states such as Georgia and Louisiana, Black elected officials are in danger of losing their seats in Congress because of Republican efforts to redraw the districts. And conservative courts have ruled summarily against racially drawn districts (JET, Feb. 26).

The California Board of Regents voted to eliminate affirmative action programs in that state’s colleges.

An amendment will be on the California ballot in November to outlaw all affirmative action policies throughout the state by government officials. A number of other states are currently reviewing race and gender-based policies as well.

Despite the apparent closing of the door on opportunity, Price advises Blacks not to panic just yet, but rather to plot a course to steer through a minefield of racial intolerance.

“I don’t think we should be alarmed about it because ringing alarms sort of cloud your strategic vision,” Price cautioned. “I think what we have to do is be organized, vigilant and prepared.”

“…We’re heading for a world where there will be a premium placed on education, preparation and entrepreneurship–I think those are the kinds of fundamentals we need to focus on in the future,” Price added.

But it will be difficult without affirmative action. Not only are the desires for education, preparation and entrepreneurship facing legal road blocks, but as this racial intolerance toward Blacks festers, more acts of violence and intimidation are being recorded.

In Oregon, for example, two White Oregon State University students were sentenced to several days in jail after trying to urinate and spit on a Black student (JET, April 22).

In Springsboro, PA, two White brothers are on trial after being charged with forcing a Black man to strip naked and jump off a bridge into freezing waters (JET, April 1).

Three White men were sentenced for firebombing two Black churches and a Black-owned tavern in Columbia, TN (JET, April 1).

The threat of violence and hate-crime victimization is a frightening trend that appears to be on the rise, according to national hate crime expert Brian Levin, associate director of Klanwatch, a nonprofit publication that monitors and reports aggressions by White supremacists and hate groups. Levin says recent statistics support his beliefs, because “one (racial) incident can set off a spiral.”

Levin used the burning of Black churches as an example. Since 1989, Klanwatch has uncovered 30 instances of arson in Black churches in eight states–Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia and Louisiana–21 of these cases have occurred in the last 15 months. In the last three months, however, 14 Black churches have burned, Levin explained.

A total of five churches have been burned in Alabama during that three-month time-span, four in Louisiana, two in Tennessee and one each in Virginia, North Carolina and Mississippi.

One of those two burned churches in Tennessee was the Inner City Community Church in Knoxville, TN, which was founded by Green Bay Packers star defensive back Reggie White (JET, Jan. 29).

The home of a Black judge in Livingston, AL, who presided over cases in a region where six Black churches had been either firebombed or vandalized, was sprayed with shot gun blasts shattering his bedroom window while he was working and his family slept (JET, March 11).

Although hate crimes are down, according to the latest FBI figures in 1994 which documented 5,258 hate crimes compared to 7,587 in 1993, Levin told JET that these crimes “are massively underreported.”

Of the 16,000 civilian law enforcement agencies, only 7,300 participate in reporting hate crimes, and only 1,150 of them have actually filed hate crime reports.

“For example,” Levin continued, “In 1994, only six hate crimes were reported in Arkansas, while 911 incidents were reported in New York. When you adjust for population, that’s still 14 times higher. Why? Because victims are afraid, and police don’t have the mechanism in small-town areas,” Levin added.

Even though there are some decreases in hate crimes, Levin paints a bleak picture for the future. The former New York City police officer said there are several trends in which he bases his prognosis.

Levin cites the displacement of a once-stable work force into service-oriented jobs; the continued existence of negative stereotyping of Blacks; the increase of violence among all racial groups; and the legitimization of bigotry by use of “code words” in the social, cultural, and political arenas as some of the trends which have the potential to create a volatile situation.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Johnson Publishing Co.

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