The elites have their day. The media, Hollywood, and a certain demographic subset of the nation are rejoicing in the inauguration of Barack Obama. Certainly the historic nature of swearing in the first black President of the United States is evident, although its been more than slightly overdone in its impact. That was made evident to me earlier this year by my wife.
My wife happens to be Chinese, from HK actually but close enough to the mainland to resent the hell out of the idea that only blacks suffered from racism. Long after blacks gained their freedom, Chinese were routinely treated like slaves, and some of the most obscene hate crimes in history were committed against Asians. In his book “The Seven States of California”, Philip Fradkin quotes a historian who said that the Los Angeles massacre of Chinese on October 24, 1871 was “probably the biggest mass lynching in the history of California, if not the whole country.” (pg 369). In 1880, the Chinese living in the mining town of Hop Alley outside Denver were driven from town, and dozens of Chinese were murdered. The exact number is unknown because the bodies were dismembered and denied proper burial. Riots against Chinese, mass lynchings, and the burnings of their communities for no offense beyond being there were common in the United States for more than eighty years.
There has never been a formal apology from the United States government, or from any of the state or local governments concerned, for the murder of hundreds if not thousands of Chinese on American soil. Before 1917, Chinese were not even commonly recorded in census records and were generally denied the opportunity to become citizens under any conditions, even when they were born in the United States. I should not have to even mention the treatment of law-abiding American citizens of Japanese genealogy during World War 2.
This does not mean that Asians alone suffered. Historian Ken Gonzales-Day noted that American Indians and Latinos, along with Chinese, were regularly subjected to brutal treatment, and were victims of lynchings far more often than were blacks (Lynching in the West, 1850-1935, pg 27).
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This is not to diminish the suffering of blacks in America, but to note the hypocrisy in the spotlight given only to that race when discussing race issues. When prominent activist groups want a discussion on race, the designated leaders are always black, and the issues always focus on their race first and foremost. Blacks are assured quota minimums in government money, jobs, school placement, and even government representation (recall the demand by Democrats that Obama’s replacement must be a black man or woman), at a time when no such privileges are extended to other races, and in the case of Asians a ceiling seems to be imposed to keep ‘too many’ of them from attending top schools. Simply put, for more than a generation there has been a strong push to advance black Americans, while ignoring other minorities who have suffered just as much, and in some cases personally worse, than blacks.
Barack Obama was not elected because he was the best-qualified candidate. He won because Americans wanted change, because he was able to win the job, and because as a black he had political capital that better-qualified opponents in his party could not access. In itself, this is no sin; many people have won office in the past under similar circumstances. But given the many claims that Obama somehow represents a victory over Racism, that America by his office has moved beyond the days where it should address its past, the disparity in how different races are treated, especially the preference granted blacks in almost all things, proves a different, a more insidious, form of racism still thrives in America.
Racism is not defeated by putting someone of the “right” color into power. It is not over when one group supplants another. It is not even finished by punishing a selected demographic, or by assuring advancement by skin color. It can only be ended when the character of the individual and the skill of his or her mind and work determine the treatment. Until then, for all his eloquence and grandeur, President Obama’s attention to Racism is no more than a new chapter in an old con game. But he’s not fooling everyone he believes are fooled.