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Many people would agree that America has made progress in some aspects of race relations over the past generation.

However, in a contemporary age 142 years after slavery and 40 years after the collapse of Jim Crow, many Americans still seem to struggle with the basic evil of racism.

Nationally this year the country has witnessed controversy over the Jena 6, the group of six African-American teens facing tough prison sentences following racially charged incidents in Louisiana; and Megan Williams, the 20-year old Virginia woman who was abducted, tortured and assaulted in a racially motivated situation.

“The number of outright hate crimes and injustice cases against Blacks is rising so rapidly it’s hard for our office to keep track,” said Malik Shabazz, an attorney with Black Lawyers for Justice, which recently organized a national march in support of Williams.

On the local level residents are currently witnessing a discrimination lawsuit against Eli Lilly, threats against Black residents on the city’s Southside, leaflets threatening racial violence on the campus of Tech High School and the recent firing of Indianapolis Star columnist Rishawn Biddle (who is Black) for posting a racially offensive blog against African-American officials.

All of these events beg the question: Why is our country still struggling with racism in the 21st century?

“In many ways this is still a racist, or racialist, society,” said Monroe Little, Ph.D., director of the African-American Studies Department at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).

Little added that he believes racism remains alive because society has not placed enough accountability on individuals who make racist statements or commit discriminatory acts.

“Just look at Don Imus,” Little stated. “He was fired from CBS for his negative comments about Black female basketball players and a few months later he has another job on the air. What message does that send?”

Rev. Ivan Douglas Hicks, who went to Louisiana in September to participate in a rally in support of the Jena 6, believes racism has survived because both American leaders and citizens keep “sweeping it under the rug.”

“Racism is the big gorilla in the corner that our society has ignored,” said Hicks, pastor of First Baptist Church North Indianapolis. “Ignorance, which is no excuse for racism, is responsible for cultivating an unfounded belief in the superiority of a particular race.”

Margie Oakely, secretary of the Concerned Clergy, a local civil rights advocacy organization, believes race relations in Indianapolis have improved somewhat.

But she adds that the fire of racism continues to be stoked nationally by media, which she accuses of placing more focus on Blacks who commit crimes and less on those who make positive contributions to their communities.

“I bet there are people in many small cities and towns who don’t come into contact with Black people often but get the wrong idea about us thanks to how we are portrayed in the media,” Oakley stated.

Rev. Thomas Brown, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church noted that the explanation for racism’s survival is simple: It has existed since the birth of the United States.

“We have to face the reality that this nation was not necessarily developed on the principles of equality and freedom, but on racist notions that allowed slavery to flourish,” said Brown, who was active in the South during the 60s as a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Fortunately, many solutions and cures for the cancer of racism exist if enough Americans choose to utilize them.

Little and Brown agreed that the primary solution is education about diversity for society as a whole, and education for African-Americans about their strong heritage.

“Our people have been mis-educated socially, spiritually and economically and that must change,” Brown stated.

Hicks believes that African-Americans, both nationally and locally, must become more active in responding to issues of concerns in their community.

“Our individual survival and survival as a people is dependent upon activism,” he said.

Oakley thinks the best solution is all peace-loving Americans to come together in a show of unity and force and condemn those who stubbornly cling to racist goals.

“Those of us who want to live peacefully in a diverse community must become united, stand together and tell the racists ‘we don’t support your hateful views and we’re not going to stand for them any longer.’”

Brown noted that it’s important for people to remember that everyone, regardless of race, must endure the same basic triumphs and struggles of life on this planet.

“There’s really only one race,” he added. “And that’s the human race.”

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