OPINION: The Most Racially-Charged Stories of 2009

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As we bring in the New Year and look forward to a new decade, I thought it might be fun to review the top 10 most racially-charged incidents of 2009.  As an obvious reflection of our lack of racial progress in America, the top 10 list actually has 14 things on it.  It appears that we’ve got a long way to go.

1)      The Henry Louis Gates Case: “The professor and the cop” was probably the silliest incident in history to ever hold the national spotlight.  They say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.  Well apparently, buddies of President Obama can tempt him into ruining an effective press conference on a critical national issue to help settle a beef between two men with really big egos.  Obama’s decision to throw grease on the grease fire only made the story last longer than it should have, as I kept wondering why CNN was calling me three times a day to analyze the racial implications of an issue that had almost nothing to do with race.  It all ended with a beer on the White House lawn.  We all must have been drinking to think that this story deserved to be front page news for an entire week.  The creation of racial controversy is certainly in the eyes of the beholder – we saw race in the Gates case, and that’s what made it racial.

2)      Tiger Tiger Woods Ya’ll!: Tiger’s list of affairs with half of the white American female waitress population didn’t start off as a racial incident, but the writing was always on the wall.  Tiger’s “brother pass” had been revoked long ago, but the number of women and the fact that none of them were even the least bit “Caublinasian” got the whole country stirring.  Black women were offended that they were not invited to be on the list of Tiger’s women and Glenn Beck decided, for some reason, that Tiger Woods’ should be compared with OJ Simpson. There would never have been such a comparison to OJ had Tiger been white.  No one compared Elliot Spitzer to OJ Simpson.

RELATED: Tiger Woods Oprah Interview May Be In The Works

3) NY Post stimulus monkey picture: Back in February, the New York Post decided to show a picture of two police officers shooting a monkey, who’d died from the gunshot wounds.  In front of the monkey’s dead body, one of the officers said, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”  OK, let’s reflect: who is considered to be the primary originator of the stimulus bill?  Oh yeah, Barack Obama.  Who owns the New York Post again?  Oh that’s right, they’re owned by the same people who own Fox News.  I think there might be a pattern here, I’m not sure.

4) Glenn Beck calls President Obama a Racist: A few months ago, Glenn Beck, for some ridiculous reason, decided to call President Barack Obama a racist.  This led to open gang warfare between Beck and ColorofChange.org.  The first blow was when Color of Change killed off a bunch of Fox News corporate sponsors, costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.  The second blow was when Fox news went after Van Jones, the Green Jobs Czar for Obama and one of the founders of ColorofChange.org, for being affiliated with left wing extremists.  Jones eventually resigned from the Obama Administration. Just for the record, Glenn Beck actually is a racist; perhaps I’ll get fired for that one myself – oh, that’s right, Bill O’Reilly already tried to have me fired from Syracuse University in 2007 and 2008.  It didn’t work, but scared the pants off my colleagues. 

5) Joe Wilson “You lie!”: Rep Joe Wilson from South Carolina decided that it would somehow make sense to turn President Obama’s State of the Union Address into an episode of “The Gong Show.”  During Obama’s speech, Wilson committed arguably the lowest class act ever in the halls of Congress by screaming “You lie!” at the President of the United States.  This was a first in American history and it was probably not a coincidence that it happened to our first black president.  Obama’s presidency is turning into a political civil war, as our nation fights for its soul.

RELATED: OPINION: Joe Wilson, Portrait Of A Racist

6) Yes, Kanye West is a jackass: I hope we can agree that Kanye West’s decision to sprint up on stage and take the microphone out of the hands of a petite little white woman gives off the wrong image to America.  But beyond that, it makes Kanye look like a complete ass.  Kanye also forgot that America is a country that has historically laid the wrath of hell on any black man accused of hurting a white woman.  That led to a horribly racist backlash on the Internet from people wanting Kanye’s head on a platter.  Perhaps the Fox News viewers had some free time that night.

7) The CBC goes after President Obama: Breaking rank with the majority of African Americans, the Congressional Black Caucus decided to go after President Obama.  Threatening to block key Democratic initiatives, the CBC has a bone to pick with the president, since he has not shown a strong commitment toward dealing with the wealth and employment gaps in the African American community.  Till now, taking on “Train Obama” has been a losing battle for almost anyone; just ask Tavis Smiley, Jesse Jackson and Jeremiah Wright.  But with unemployment rates that are 50% higher than White Americans, the Black community has reason to expect Obama to do more than his predecessors.

8) Sonia Sotomayor is a very wise Latina: During her confirmation hearing to become the first Latin member of the Supreme Court, it was unearthed that Justice Sotomayor somehow felt that it was ok to be proud of her Latin heritage (shame on her!). During several speeches, Sotomayor stated that “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion.” By jumping on this harmless statement, it was clear that the conservatives were grasping for straws.

9) The Tea Party Phenomenon: The Tea Party protests were effectively master pieces of political puppetry that did a good job of taking advantage of the latent racism in America.  Judging from America’s reactions to Michael Vick and OJ Simpson, we all know that it’s very easy to get people riled up over an “uppity negro.”  Obama became the target and the tea parties didn’t stop.  Personally, I was hopeful that they would actually serve tea; they might have been more effective that way.  

10) The Oscar Grant shooting: The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police in Oakland decided to shoot a black man in the back to bring in the New Year.  It turns out that Grant was unarmed, and the family is filing a $25 million dollar wrongful death suit against the police.  Good for them.  

11) Two HBCUs crown white girls to be their homecoming queens: Both Kentucky State University and Hampton University decided that the best black woman on campus was actually a white woman.  Well, not quite.  But they did break long-standing tradition by choosing white homecoming queens.  Should black women feel offended by this or step their games up? I plead the fifth on that one.

12)  The Senate approves slavery apology with reparations disclaimer: Finally, the Senate decides to apologize for slavery.  OK, it only took you 150 years to get around to it.  I guess all that pork you put in your bills kept you too bloated to mention one of the greatest crimes against humanity in the history of the world.  But it turns out that a half-hearted apology is the most they were willing to offer, making it clear that the apology makes no statement about reparations, which denies the multi-trillion dollar wealth transfer that took place as a result of denying land, opportunities and wealth to millions of people of color.  Isn’t that like saying, “I’m sorry my family stole your possessions, but I’m not giving anything back.  Oh, by the way – we shall overcome and all that good stuff. Let’s hold hands now and host a Martin Luther King benefit dinner together.”  Since the fake apology has been issued, perhaps we’ll get a real one in another 150 years.

13) The Heather Ellis case: I found myself in the middle of a national firestorm (so what’s new?) with the case of Heather Ellis, a 23-year old black woman who was facing up to 15-years in prison in an incident derived from cutting in line at a Wal-Mart.  Heather eventually took a plea on two misdemeanors, but what was most interesting was that the trial unearthed some shady behavior on the part of Wal-Mart when it came to the fact that they “just happened” to destroy the videotapes showing Heather being assaulted by the same police officer who’d been fired from his previous job for sexual harassment.  At least she didn’t go to prison and I swear I’ll never cut line at Wal-Mart ever again.

14)  The Columbia Professor who punched out his white colleague after a racially-charged conversation: When I heard that prominent Architecture Professor Lionel McIntyre punched out his colleague after a racially-heated conversation, I figured that this incident might reflect negatively on his performance evaluation.  The case sent shockwaves through academia, as we all suddenly realized that we might need boxing lessons to get our point across.  I guess having beer during racial conversations doesn’t always work to our benefit.  You hear that Mr. President?

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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