Stand against racism

FI-EditorialIt’s wonderful to see organizations like the YWCA of Greenwich holding events like Stand Against Racism Day, especially as you’re reminded why we need these events.

Bigotry is something that is easy to ignore until it happens to you, and many of us do not know what it’s like to have our race, our ethnicity, our gender, or our sexuality used as a target. Stand Against Racism Day is a national program, but in Greenwich the YWCA has put an individualized stamp on it, working with the town and the schools and paying more than lip service to the issue. It seeks to educate and get our thinking to expand to see the world through the eyes of others.

This is badly needed, because if you listen to some of the discourse today, you’d actually start to think that the racism issue in this country is over. After all, some will say, no one’s being lynched in the streets anymore. There’s no such thing as segregated public schools or lunch counters that will serve only people with the “right” shade of skin. Slavery is a distant memory, right? And so is the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. Martin Luther King said he wanted his kids to be judged on the content of their character, not the color of their skin, and here in 2014 we’re at that point. So racism is solved! Right?

Of course, the polite word to describe all of that is hogwash. Progress has undoubtedly been made in terms of race relations in our country, but after a week where everything grinds to a halt due to the racist ramblings of an owner of an NBA franchise, there’s clearly a whole lot more progress left to make. And maybe the silver lining about the Donald Sterling mess is that it reminds everyone that as much as we love to think we live in a post-racial world, the old prejudices remain alive and well.

But the real problem is that the kind of bold-faced racism Mr. Sterling voiced in those infamous tapes isn’t always so apparent. Frankly, racists have gotten a whole lot more subtle than Donald Sterling, a well-known slum lord in California whom the league allowed to operate with impunity until this week. The racism that’s out there today is a lot less cartoony and is potentially more devastating because it’s harder to see.

It manifests itself in the idea that racism is a dead issue today and that since everything is ok, a slim majority on the U.S. Supreme Court can gut the Voting Rights Act and everything will be fine as certain states adopt restrictive voter ID laws that do nothing to combat fraud but do keep poor and minority voters away from the polls. And it appears when the court decides that affirmative action protections are no longer necessary. It’s part of a culture where many act as if it’s a greater crime to be accused of racism than to actually be racist.

By acting as if this isn’t a problem anymore, the problem only grows worse.

That’s why it’s so gratifying to see organizations like the YWCA work diligently on a local level to battle for equal rights. This will be a success only if we get our local government and our youth involved, and the YWCA does that well.

Say what you will about Greenwich — after all, it is home to many of the wealthy, the elite and yes, the very, very white — but it is also a community of great diversity and that is not ignored here. In fact, it’s embraced by our government and our social services agencies and independent groups.

Only by calling attention to bigotry and racism whenever it happens and not just in the most glaring times can society continue to progress. That comes from hearing different views and challenging ourselves to think beyond our own experiences. It’s something that is ongoing and ever evolving, and the more we focus on it now, the better all of us will be in the years to come.

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