2009-05-15 / Columnists

The Progressive

Commentary By John Paul Culotta

The election of Obama for many Americans was the culmination of the dark ugly stain of race hatred in our common history with a positive and uplifting storyline. Our nation, based on the powerful ideas of the enlightenment and the Christian ideal of brotherhood, has often treated our indigenous population and our fellow citizens that trace their ancestry from Africa as inferiors. Often violence was used as a tool to maintain our caste system. Most American ethnic groups have experienced discrimination, violent attacks, stereotyped portrayal in mass media, and economic exploitation. African Americans and Native Americans have suffered all of this since colonial days.

Our new president is articulate, charismatic, energetic, and capable.

Most Americans approve of his stewardship. In times of economic crisis and war most Americans will rally around a president who can communicate what the nation needs to survive. Obama will lead us, and his ancestry should become a footnote of history.

On April 28, 2009 the New York Times reported, "Two-thirds of Americans now say race relations are generally good and the percentage of blacks who say so has doubled since last July according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll." Are we in a post racial world, as many now believe? Race hatred still unfortunately exists in these United States.

A few days before the results of the poll, I was at the beach and saw some young white men wearing T-shirts with caricatures of Obama picking cotton, serving cream of wheat and as a bootblack. The shirts had the slogan Change You Can Believe In written underneath the vile, vicious, and demeaning attempt at humor.

It may be that these young men are a small minority in our population. We cannot dismiss such disregard for civil and polite expression. Remarks and artistic expression that demean ethnic groups and are intended to hurt are too common in our nation. Ethnic humor is an American tradition. We can joke about our differences without offending and continue the tradition. Humor that implies a certain servile status is not acceptable.

I also believe, though, that the kind of labor displayed on the T-shirts should not be portrayed as without worth. Agricultural labor is important. Our meals, clothing, and health depend on the labor of those that process our fruits, vegetables, and cotton. Domestic labor helps all of us who need health care workers or childcare workers. All of us at times need laborers who work in socially undesirable occupations. Why imply that any racial or ethnic group should be relegated to such labor? Why imply any labor is somehow only for the inferior of our society?

All labor should be respected.

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