Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

In 2012, racism's tenacious hold on U.S.

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
updated 7:24 PM EDT, Thu November 1, 2012
Donna Brazile says two studies showing a rise in anti-black, anti-Hispanic attitudes in the U.S. reveal a nation that is far from post-racial.
Donna Brazile says two studies showing a rise in anti-black, anti-Hispanic attitudes in the U.S. reveal a nation that is far from post-racial.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile: This country should be one where Dr. King's vision of racial equality prevails
  • But she says new poll shows rise in anti-black, anti-Hispanic attitudes, far from post-racial
  • She says other report showed generational divide in attitudes to growing minority population
  • Brazile: Remarks like Sununu's about Gen. Powell stoke and reflect this tenacious racism

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

I was not yet four years old when Dr. Martin Luther King spoke those words on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. But in a way I have lived my life as if I were one of those children. For more than 40 years I have fought to make this country a place where those words would be true for all of us, where all Americans can be Dr. King's spiritual grandchildren.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

I am not naïve enough to think that with the election of Barack Obama racism has disappeared from America. In fact, according to a new AP Poll, racism has increased since 2008.

According to the poll, "51% of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48% in a similar 2008 survey." The three percentage point rise is not large, and within the poll's margin of error. But, at the very least, it indicates we have not reached the post-racial world that some hoped Obama's election would usher in. And the prejudice isn't limited to blacks: 52% openly express anti-Hispanic sentiments.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The numbers go up when measured by an implicit racial attitudes test. That is, when the survey takes into account the "dog-whistles," the new buzz word for code language only those "tuned in" will hear, anti-black sentiment is 56% and anti-Hispanic sentiment is 57%.

Opinion: Don't let superstorm sway your vote

This racism has consequences. Alan Jenkins, an assistant solicitor general during the Clinton administration and now executive director of the Opportunity Agenda think tank, told the AP that negative racial attitudes affect "the way people are treated by police, the way kids are treated by teachers, the way home-seekers are treated by landlords and real estate agents."

The racial divide increasingly reflects the generation gap. According to the ninth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day report, published by the Boston-based group, United for a Fair Economy, "Increasingly elderly Americans do not identify with young Americans who are far more racially and ethnically diverse, leading to reductions in future-oriented public investments."

Hear Sununu's controversial race remark
Booker: 'It's extremely offensive'

The report notes that almost half of Americans under 18 are minorities and 80% of retirees are white. By 2030, the majority of those under 18 will be people of color, and by 2042 nonwhites will be the majority of the population.

And as has become obvious in this campaign, the racial and generational divide is driven by the economic divide.

In simple terms, the older white population has accumulated more of the wealth. The key political question is how they relate to and interact with a younger, more diverse -- and yes, more tolerant -- demographic.

Frum: Let's get real about abortions

This may explain John Sununu's recent comment. Explain, but not excuse.

In an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, former New Hampshire Gov. Sununu said, when asked about Gen. Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama, "You have to wonder whether that's an endorsement based on issues or that he's got a slightly different reason for supporting President Obama...I think that when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him."

The wording is a well-constructed dog-whistle. It's also tone-deaf. What's meant to deflect criticism -- "somebody of your own race that you're proud of ... I applaud Colin" -- sends a different signal: condescending and contemptuous.

Just how condescending and contemptuous is easy to see if we reverse it: Sununu is endorsing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney not because of policies or philosophy, but because both are old, rich and white.

Either formulation should make us very uncomfortable.

Opinion: What is presidential greatness?

In fact, Powell gave cogent, powerful reasons for his endorsement. He noted the difficulty of the recession, the job losses, the fiscal implosion, the unemployment and auto industry collapse. He said that he'd seen "stabilization ... in the financial community, housing ... starting to pick up ... consumer confidence rising."

On foreign affairs, Powell said President Obama has gotten us out of one war, started to get us out of a second and that the president's actions "with respect to protecting us from terrorism have been very, very solid."

Powell also explained why he was not endorsing Romney: "The governor was saying things at the debate on [foreign affairs] that were quite different from what he said earlier ... As I listen to what his proposals are ... with respect to the economy, it's essentially let's cut taxes and compensate for that with other things."

Those responding to Sununu's racist dog-whistle miss a critical point: each of us has a history -- be it racial, ethnic, religious -- that is a source of pride and sorrow. Our heritage helps shape our identity. But neither history nor heritage defines an individual's character. Only the individual's actions can do that.

In human terms, what-you-see-is-what-you-get refers not to something superficial or external, but to what a person does, for character is expressed in action. Are we honest; are we just; are we compassionate? Where are our acts of goodness and kindness?

What a shame that some who would lead, whether in politics or the media, still pretend otherwise.

Powell argued about character; Sununu insinuated about race.

And Dr. King's dream is still not yet a reality.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT