Racially-charged sentiment despicable beyond the spoken word

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Despite desperate assertions of some societal segments to the contrary, we Americans still struggle to deal with issues of race.

Lately we’ve heard from was Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, then welfare rancher Cliven Bundy (him, again), and more recently Donald Sterling of the L.A. Clippers — three well-off white men who aired their ignorant opinions on race.

Despite desperate assertions of some societal segments to the contrary, we Americans still struggle to deal with issues of race.

Lately we’ve heard from was Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, then welfare rancher Cliven Bundy (him, again), and more recently Donald Sterling of the L.A. Clippers — three well-off white men who aired their ignorant opinions on race.

Each of these men received an enthusiastic whooping in the forum of popular opinion; political figures, celebrities, and cultural commentators all weighed in on the ugliness of their narrow views.

As a society, there are few things we enjoy more than piling on against someone who is obviously wrong. We might say they have a right to say whatever they please, but we really do not hesitate to gleefully join the pitchforks and torches mob in denouncing their generally despised prejudices.

It seems hypocritical, though, that we are all too eager to slap down some fool who couldn't keep his narrow-minded mouth shut, while we ignore the racist statements we as a nation make every day.

Let’s start with our schools.  A Department of Education study shows students of color are punished more harshly for infractions than their white peers.  Of those referred to law enforcement for serious rule violations, African American students are arrested far more often than their white classmates, have higher rates of juvenile incarceration, and stand a greater chance of being sentenced to prison as adults.  Where are the voices protesting these institutional prejudices?

According to the Department of Justice, people of color are three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop compared to white drivers, and African Americans are arrested at twice the rate of their paler counterparts.  When convicted, nonwhite offenders receive longer sentences, and are far more likely to receive the death penalty.

Human Rights Watch notes that nonwhites are no more likely to use illegal drugs, yet they are arrested at a higher rate than white people.  Drug use among African Americans is estimated at 14 percent, but they comprise 37 percent of the arrests made for drug offenses. 

And while minorities make up 30 percent of the country's population, they occupy 60 percent of the beds in our prisons.  Statistics indicate one out of every 106 white men get incarcerated; for African-American men, that ratio is one out of 15 and for Hispanic men, one out of 36.  The odds in our justice system are clearly stacked against minorities, but we do not seethe at such racism. 

Perhaps Phil Robertson, Cliven Bundy, and Donald Sterling reap the negative publicity they deserve. People are entitled to their opinions, even when they are wrong, but they are not entitled to be free of the consequences of expressing themselves. 

And we as a society are surely not entitled to be smug about their faults, not when we callously ignore the many collective prejudices we own and must account for.

Pat Grimes, a former South Bay resident, writes from Ypsilanti, Mich. He can be reached at pgwriter@inbox.com.

Racially-charged sentiment despicable beyond the spoken word