Another incidence of overt racism in New Jersey, via the Star-Ledger:

A family of Barack Obama supporters awakened this morning to find a burned 6-foot cross on the front lawn of their home in northern Warren County, police said.

The charred cross was partly wrapped with a homemade congratulatory banner that declared “President Obama Victory ’08” and had been stolen from the lawn the night before, police said.

This is, of course, just two days after a report of Obama / Biden signs being defaced with KKK and swastika graffiti in Hunterdon County, which borders Warren County.

In Warren County, the investigation is moving forward on the cross-burning as a “bias” crime (which, I’m discovering, is another term for “hate crime” – just a more palatable one, I guess). The police chief investigating the defacement in Hunterdon County wouldn’t specify whether or not the graffiti was being considered a hate crime. I’m not sure how it could be any clearer – the signs were defaced with racist graffiti, symbols that have been long associated with groups seeking to wipe out ethnic and racial minorities. The graffiti – like the cross-burning – was meant to intimidate and harass supporters of the first African-American President-Elect.

Fortunately, New Jersey has laws for that.

Donna and I were watching post-election news coverage on Wednesday, and all of the talking heads had African-American guests weighing in on the historical nature of this year’s election. We came across one show (forgive me, I can’t remember which one) on which Tavis Smiley was a guest – he’s a man I’ve listened to via NPR for a while, and while he veers more conservative than I do, I have huge respect for the man. On this show, Smiley was being questioned by a white female host on what this means for America – she kept insisting that the election of Barack Obama means that we are now in a post-racial America.

What does that even mean?

And clearly, it’s not true: all we’ve talked about for the past year with regard to this election is race, and whether or not it played a role in the campaigns and results. Shouldn’t a post-racial America be focusing on something other than race? To be fair, I’m glad we’re finally talking about our national issues with race. Obviously, we still have them (see news stories from earlier in the entry, or this old Washington Post article, which demonstrates pretty clearly that we are slightly obsessed with race as a nation, though unwilling to own up to it), and no amount of pretending will make it otherwise. Tavis Smiley, a man of class and grace, handled the host well by carefully explaining (again and again and again) that the election of a black man as president doesn’t suddenly solve our racial problems in America, and to assume or pretend that is true is irresponsible and somewhat delusional (he was a bit more eloquent than that).

There seems to be a dangerous current of desire in this country to homogenize the population: we want our neighbors to share our values, our morals, our perspectives on everything. We want our people to be diverse – but act like they’re not. It’s evident in the resistance to pride celebrations – whether those celebrations be based on cultural, racial, sexual and gender differences, people are still asking the tired question: “Yes, we can see they’re different, but why do they have to celebrate it?” That question (and others like it) seems mostly to be asked quietly, in a grumbly, under-the-breath voice that manages to unsettle without much notice. And while this unsettling may seem less troublesome than the overt displays of harassment and intimidation noted above, I think it’s at least as big a problem – racism (and any other -ism, really) is spread in more than one way, America.

Is there a solution, a way to get us through the woods to a truly post-racial America? Not an easy one. And perhaps not one at all. But one thing I’ve decided is that we have to talk about it – however clumsily we can manage it, even if we end up offending people or fumbling the words – we have to talk about it. Ignoring the facts doesn’t change the facts.

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