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 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 9:53 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT