This isn't ancient history. My dad grew up through all of this.
It seems to me that it's a bit premature, then, for us to insist — as one conservative pundit suggested to me last month over dinner — that black Americans "just get over the whole racism thing." That pundit was referring to the controversy over Sen. Barack Obama, and the intemperate and ugly statements made by his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
I have no interest in defending the substance of what Wright has said over the last week, or of the passages that have been pulled from his sermons and played over the Internet and cable television. There are a few things he has said that I would defend. There are many, many things he has said that I find objectionable, abhorrent, and twelve kinds of crazy.
But it's worth keeping in mind that for 200 years, hundreds of thousands of black people were imprisoned in this country as slaves. For another 100 years, in most of the country, they were second-class citizens, subject to rapes, lynchings and beatings; denied the right to vote; forced into segregated buses, schools, parks, and public facilities; and denied due process in the criminal justice system.
Bizarre as some of Rev. Wright's conspiracy theories may sound, there actually have been some pretty bizarre conspiracies against black Americans over the years.
I can't begrudge black Americans if for three hours on Sunday they want to indulge in a bit of righteous indignation within the walls of their places of worship. Even if that indignation sometimes expresses itself in hateful or nutty ways, or in ways I'll never quite understand.
America has come a long way with respect to race, but it would be foolish to say that the remnants of racism aren't still with us, or that — as I've heard some commenters suggest — that the only discrimination that matters any more is the kind of elitist reverse discrimination we sometimes see in affirmative action programs (for the record, I'm opposed to state-sanctioned affirmative action).