Obama was barely 2 years old when King gave his famous speech, 3 when Lewis was beaten about the head in Selma. He didn’t grow up in the segregated South as Bill Clinton had. Sharing those experiences wasn’t a prerequisite for gaining the acceptance of black leaders, necessarily, but that didn’t mean Obama, with his nice talk of transcending race and baby-boomer partisanship, could fully appreciate the sacrifices they made, either. “Every kid is always talking about what his parents have been through,” Rangel says, “and no kid has any clue what he’s talking about.”
The American population gurgled over 300 million some time in October of 2006, and it never paused. A solid 67 percent of that population considers itself non-Hispanic white in racial makeup, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, meaning nearly 100 million Americans are responsible for the blacks and browns and reds and golds in our ethnic color wheel.
This is, as we say in American flag-adorned speeches and mushy patriotic reports, what makes the United States a melting pot, as it was put by an English playwright nearly a century ago. Though most sociologists have long since discarded the phrase, its meaning is strong to all proud Americans. Yet, anyone who has ever ridden a bus passed the abandoned row houses in North Philadelphia or been lost in the faceless lines of tract housing in Union, Kentucky must know the pot needs to be stirred.
There is no equality in division, only disparity takes root. So, give us answers, we clamor. Leaders and legislators, you must tell us what the solutions for our continued racial misgivings are. The answers haven’t come. How could they? We haven’t yet established what the problem is.