September 24, 2012
Dear Faith Leader,
Americans heralded the 2008 election of the first African-American as a victory for race relations in the country. Four years later, the question of whether the country has truly moved into a post-racial era lingers on. President Barack Obama himself, when asked by Rolling Stone magazine if he thought race relations were any different than when he took office, said, “I never bought into the notion, that by electing me, somehow we were entering into a post-racial period.”
In many ways, electing a black president has worsened race relations by causing more racial animus and latent racism. As Americans continue to ponder the meaning of their first black president and hate groups grow to unprecedented numbers, studies continue to document mixed feelings on the progress of race relations in the country.
There has been a steady increase in hate groups as well as the number of people who are joining them since Obama was elected. Deep-seated racism has come to the forefront and Barack Obama’s presidency has brought our country face to face with our troubling racial past. President Obama has become a mirror for America’s racial attitudes — reflecting stereotypes, perceptions, fears, hopes and highlighting the nation’s complicated racial history. Many in the Pioneer Valley laude the election of an African-American president as a sign that America has moved toward a post-racial period, thus dismissing any notion of the existence of racial bias or intent in the actions of any accused of such. However, the election of Obama is not a true litmus test for gaging the state of race relations in the nation.
On the night Obama was elected, Ali Kamar, a teenage Muslim and black immigrant from Liberia was pummeled to the ground and beaten. His attackers, white men wearing hoodies and wielding bats, shouted “Obama.” A few hours later, right here in our beloved city, a church serving a predominantly black congregation, was burned to the ground by three white men in an arson attack proven to be a hate crime spurred on by the election of a black man to the highest office in the land. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, crosses were burned in the yards of Obama supporters. Black figures hanging from nooses tied to trees were discovered in Maine. Across the country hundreds of similar incidents—far above the normal rate—have been recorded by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The racist beehive was disturbed with the election of Barack Obama, and we are hearing a lot of buzzing from those eager to reframe issues of concern in ways that invoke racial fears among some white voters. Affirmative action, poverty, education, language, taxation, health care, immigration, and welfare are all topics that are dividing the valley and the nation along racial lines.
The blogosphere in the valley is abuzz with anonymous posters assaulting all government programs described as supporting racial “privilege” or “special rights” for people of color and immigrants. Calls for abandoning affirmative action and other government programs addressing racial disparities are commonplace and little time is wasted blaming the economic meltdown on people of color and the impoverished. The broad scapegoating of people of color with racially coded language runs amok and goes unchecked, allowing people from any stations in life to spew racist rhetoric without risk of being identified. Therefore, your local teacher, police officer or elected official can stoke fear and division in the same manner as cross-burning Klansmen, loudmouth rightwing talk radio hosts or well-dressed academics who cloak their bigotry in pseudo-scientific research.
The intensity of the racist backlash has reached epic proportions. As a result, our nation is in the midst of the most aggressive attempt to roll back voting rights in over a century. A century ago, the target was the voting rights of Black voters and other voters of color. The goal was to eliminate their presence at the polls to accelerate the spread of racial segregation. Today, the target is the voting rights of Black voters, Latino voters, Asian American Voters, Native American Voters, as well as students and young people, seniors, working men and women, and immigrants of all colors. These are also among the voting demographics who are most likely to support workers rights, equal opportunity, women's rights, environmental protection, and peace.[i]
As a result of the climate in our nation and the attempts to suppress the rights of certain groups to vote, the Springfield Branch NAACP is enclosing two documents to assist you during this year’s election season:
Securing Church Property
This document is a step-by-step practical guide to help protect your church. We must remember that Springfield was the location where the burning of an African American church took place after the election of Barack Obama. We must be vigilant as it would not be a stretch expect similar cowardly acts of terrorism should the President be re-elected.
Let My People Vote Clergy Toolkit
A guide to organize your congregation and community to host voter registration weekends and rallies, including: liturgical resources and prayers, sample bulletin announcements, press releases, letters to colleagues and congregations.
If you have any questions or concerns please contact me at your convenience
Rev. Talbert W. Swan, II
President, Springfield Branch NAACP