We sure got here in a hurry. Just a few short weeks ago the nation was cheering the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team during their improbable run at the World Cup in Brazil. The political parties we were debating what to do about the sudden flood of illegal teenage migrants at our southern border. Most of us had never heard of the crime of selling loose cigarettes on New York City streets. Most of us couldn’t find Ferguson, Missouri on a map.
This weekend, it was reported that Amnesty International is sending a “human rights team” to Ferguson—a first deployment in the U.S.A. for the organization—to underscore “the lack of accountability for Michael Brown’s shooting.” Later this week, Al Sharpton and his National Action Network will stage a rally on Staten Island to protest the killing earlier this summer of Eric Garner, a black man, at the hands of the NYPD. The nation’s police are now in the crosshairs and we are on the edge of a racial crisis with the potential to tear the social fabric along predictably ideological lines.
How quickly we go from zero to 60 when the subject is race.
It’s odd that it should have happened now, on the cusp of Obama’s final act. For all the bitter partisan conflict of his presidency, Obama entered office promising significant progress on the racial divisions that continue to haunt us. In his campaign speech addressing the controversy over his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama sharply criticized what he called “a profoundly distorted view of this country—a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America.” Wright’s inflammatory comments, the future president went on to say, “were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems.” That was six years ago. Given the riots in Ferguson and the disquiet in New York City, it’s hard to see exactly what Obama has done to help the situation.