Racism Still Permeates ‘Post-Racial’ United States

When Barack Obama won the South Carolina Democratic primary in 2008, I took it as a sign that we were entering a post-racial America. The thinly veiled racial slurs from his opponents as well as the too-widely-believed and downright insane myths that he is a Muslim and was born in Kenya since Obama’s election have changed my mind on that.

The outrage over illegal immigration, much of it directed at Mexicans, also shows a similarly strong tinge of racial prejudice. (And the troubling irony here is that by 2050, Hispanics will be the predominant racial group in America.) Fortunately, there are films that still show how far we’ve come and can possibly help take us further like two I recently watched. And both show how laws that were used to discriminate became tools to fight it.

Movie: Thurgood — Originally a one-man play that ran on Broadway and elsewhere, this tour de force portrayal by Laurence Fishburne of Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice, is illuminating, engaging, touching and even at times comedic — ultimately both great entertainment and a vibrant history lesson. It takes a great script and a superb actor to make such an undertaking as this — one actor on a single stage set — truly work. And writer George Stevens Jr. and Fishburne succeed admirably.

From his youth to his ascent to the bench of the highest court in the land, Marshall’s life also reflects America at large during the eras in which he lived.

One critical part of the play is the lawsuit Marshall helped argue that used the “separate but equal” racial segregation Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson as a crowbar to get a black student admitted to the University of Maryland law school.

It was a critical moment in the shift from legally sanctioned segregation to integration, and the fact that Marshall eventually became a member of the court that made that decision makes his victory all that sweeter. Marshall’s gifts as storyteller, humorist and personality are made vividly real in this monumental film that recently debuted on HBO.

Documentary Film: A Class Apart — In a supreme case of irony, the 14th Amendment that granted equal rights to Blacks was used by the State of Texas to discriminate against Mexican-Americans until a 1954 Supreme Court decision changed matters.

This PBS “American Experience” segment follows the origins of the Hernandez v. Texas case and the tragic life of San Antonio lawyer Gus Garcia who argued its brief. Texas contended that Hispanics were white and therefore not protected by the 14th Amendment even though discrimination was widespread. When an obviously guilty Mexican American was convicted of murder in the small Texas town of Edna by an all-white jury, Garcia had a case to prove that Hispanics were indeed a “class apart” and defendant Hernandez had not been tried before a jury of his peers. Garcia was considered a brilliant legal mind, but also suffered from severe alcoholism. His lapse into drunkenness the night before the Supreme Court hearing provides even greater drama to the already compelling story. And the decision ruling that Mexican Americans were a class apart opened the doors for equal rights for Hispanics in the Lone Star State.

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2011


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