Item: The Park performing Arts Center in Union City, New Jersey, received obscene and threatening telephone calls and Eric Hafen, the director of this years Passion Play, dealt with death threats after casting a black actor in the role of Jesus. The Park Theater has presented the play, which tells the story of the life of Jesus, for 82 seasons without incident. One woman called to ask Hafen, When is the white actor playing, because I don't want to see the black thing. Many others canceled their reservations for tickets. (Newsday, March 9, 1997; Reuters, Ltd., March 4, 1997)
Item: At the conclusion of this year's Masters golf championship, Fuzzy Zoeller, a former Masters champion himself, referred to winning golfer, Tiger Woods, as that little boy. He went on to warn that next years Champions Dinner would likely consist of fried chicken and collard greens or whatever they cook. The next day Zoeller publicly apologized before dropping out of the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Championship tournament. K-Mart announced the cancellation of its endorsement contract with the pro golfer. Woods accepted Zoellers apology, though admitted he was stunned by the comments.
Item: Four Wise County residents were arrested two weeks ago after conspiring to blow up an oil refinery near Boyd, Texas. The bombing, designed to destroy the plant and kill workers, was also intended to release poison gas into the air. The conspirators believed the explosion and subsequent spread of poisonous gas might kill half the countys population. The blast was also intended to create a diversion that would allow for robbery of an armored car. The suspects planned to use the stolen money to fund future terrorist activity. All of the suspects had ties to the extremist, racist True Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Item: Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk spoke out strongly against the policies of area country clubs restricting membership to whites only. The mayor instructed his staff not to schedule him to attend any events at clubs whose rules exclude blacks, women, or Jews. His comments were prompted by WFAA-TV sportscaster Dale Hansen who asked Kirk his opinion of golf clubs in Dallas where even the mayor would be refused membership. Kirk is the first African American mayor in the city's history.
In spite of thirty years of struggle, progress and achievement in legislation, economic opportunity and education; race and persistent racism remain troubling problems in American life. Actually worse than our lingering tendency to behave in racist ways is the often angry insistence by white Americans that race is no longer an issue worthy of our attention. Whites typically do not embrace their own whiteness, suggesting that all Americans should live as if race does not matter. What far too many Anglo Americans do not understand is the day to day experience of life as a person of color in this nation. The simple fact that white is not considered a color in this society sets all of us up for insensitivity, discrimination and race bias. No matter how evident racism appears to those it affects, whites too often remain blind to the reality simply because they maintain most of the power and control in our communities. People with power seldom see or listen very well. Power not only corrupts, it also causes blindness and deafness.
Our nation and our cities grow more diverse with each passing year. With the diversity comes increased strength, as well as heightened tensions. An obvious first step toward a new kind of community fit for the next millennium will be the simple, personal recognition on the part of white Americans that we still have problems associated with race in our land. Recognition will not be enough. Action must follow to remake the American heart for the sake of our schools, churches, neighborhoods and places of business. But there can be no new creation without an honest assessment of where we are as a nation of colorsblack, brown, bronze and white.