This past year, there has been a lot of talk about “how far we have come as a nation.” Barack Obama is a serious contender in the race for the President of the United States, something that only 20 years ago would have been unimaginable. It is almost hard to believe that my father came of age in the era of segregated schools – an age of acceptable racism – and now may see a black man elected to the highest office in the land. So, it is true, we have come a long way, however much remains to be done.
Just this past week, the AP published the results of a poll which found that
“Barack Obama’s race could be the deciding factor if the presidential battle remains a dead heat on Election Day… The survey finds that many white Americans — particularly Democrats and Independent voters — still hold deep-seated reservations about African Americans… Obama’s support could be as much as 6% higher if there were no racial prejudice involved…”
This is just further evidence supporting what many of us already know; discrimination is still alive and well in America. The days of outright hate and persecution have given way to a new kind of bigotry. It ripples below the surface, lingering in the shadows, and is just as dangerous as the hate of decades past. These days the majority of people are less outright in their biases, yet the beliefs still hold true. There is evidence of this everywhere: the country clubs that brazenly exclude Jews, schools and neighborhoods which remain “segregated” despite integration and racial profiling which pops up everywhere from airports to street corners. I would be hard pressed in this country to find any member of a minority group that feels fully accepted by American society.
As a Jew who grew up in a community largely devoid of a greater Jewish population, I never had slurs flung at me, but somehow always had a knowledge that I was different. I was once invited by a friend to go swimming at her ‘club’ and was thouroghly confused when my mother told me it would not be appropriate to bring along the new towel my uncle had just brought me back from his latest trip to Israel. The towel had Hebrew letters emblazoned across its surface, and she didn’t want it’s presence at the ‘club’ to make anyone uncomfortable. At 10 I was confused yet compliant (I brought a pink and white striped towel in its place). However, I distinctly remember being acutely aware of my presence as an interloper the entire day. I feared what might happen should someone find out I was Jewish. Would anyone dare ask me to leave? Luckily, the day went off without a hitch and I had fun swimming with friends- but I knew I was unwanted. For the rest of my young adult and teen years I remember questioning whether or not those of my friends whose families were members of these clubs thought less of me because I was a Jew.
This is the discrimination of today. It is pervasive and uncertain. It is safely hidden behind closed doors and not oft spoken aloud, and thus we fool ourselves into believeing we have made leaps and bounds as a nation. In reality the shift is less pronounced.
I do not mean to take anything away from the civil rights movement, and fully recognize the amount of progress it has made in this country. Our society is certainly more integrated, and minorities continue to succeed more and more with each passing generation. However, it would be foolish were we to blind ourselves to the amount of work which remains to be done. I dread the day when I will have to explain to my children why in America -a country where “all men are created equal” – we did not afford gays and lesbians the same rights as those given to heterosexual couples.
Barack Obama’s candidacy has done a lot to lift the veil of discrimination in American society. His campaign has acted as a mirror showing us not only how far we have come, but how far we still have to go.