Graffiti of a stick figure in a noose was found in a classroom at Saint Joseph’s University a few days before Election Day. Five days after the election, it was reported that a white student used racial slurs directed at President-elect Barack Obama and students during a violent altercation, which involved more than 20 students at La Salle University. Some students have been hit with disciplinary charges for allegedly singling out and attacking African-American students.
On Nov. 5, on South Street, an African-American unjustly accused me of racial discrimination.
The night before, I fought back tears of joy and excitement as I sat in my living room, eyes glued to the television screen as I watched President-elect Barack Obama deliver his acceptance speech in Chicago.
What gave this person the right to accuse me of being something I believed I wasn’t? He didn’t know who I was, what I believed in or what I have had to put up with. As a woman, I, too, have fallen victim to discrimination. What made his discrimination worse than mine?
We were both throwing punches from our own pedestals. He stepped onto his when he made assumptions about my beliefs based on my race. I hoisted myself onto mine when I insisted I couldn’t be a racist because I voted for a black president.
And yet there we were, arguing about something that shouldn’t be an issue to begin with. We were contributing to racism, regardless of our intentions. The problem of racial tension exists because we patted it on the head and said it was fine to put all that behind us.
The result is incidents like those at St. Joe’s and La Salle. Racism shows up not only in the deep South but in liberal northeast academic institutions, as well.
“In one sense, [Obama’s election] became a celebration of race, of achieving equality,” said Dr. Susan Lucas, an assistant professor of geography and urban studies at Temple. “You’re objectifying race. You’re making it the issue. All of a sudden, the only thing people say about Obama is ‘He’s our first black president,’ not that he addressed the issues people were concerned about.”
We made the election about race. Because of this, racial tension is likely to intensify in the aftermath of Obama’s election. Spirits are high and hopeful, yet extremists on both sides of the spectrum possess the ability to quickly bring them down.
In late October, two young white supremacists were arrested in Tennessee for plotting a massacre that would end with the assassination of Obama. On Election Day, members of the Black Panther Party carried nightsticks to polling places in Philadelphia.
And this was before election results were in.
“We can’t say that race doesn’t matter when Obama is behind glass making speeches,” said sophomore chemistry major Esi Bentsi-Barnes about the 10-foot bulletproof glass that shielded Obama during his acceptance speech. Obama was placed under Secret Service protection in May 2007, the earliest ever for a presidential candidate.
Now that Obama has been elected, white supremacists will have a field day playing the bigot, and black extremists will have their own field day reacting to the supremacists. The rest of us will be left talking about how much crazier the country has become. This is why racism is still alive. It is a cycle we could be swirling in forever.
Perhaps Bentsi-Barnes wraps it up best.
“I don’t think a president-elect can change 400 years of racism,” she said.
It is a brilliant achievement that Obama has been elected as our first African-American president.
But it shouldn’t be.
Leah Mafrica can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.