It is hard to believe it was twenty years ago this month that a shocked America watched graphic video of Rodney King being beaten by white police officers. To many this represented racism in its most abhorrent light. Selma, Montgomery, Bull Connor and Lester Maddox all rearing their ugly heads, again.

A young black minority member being pummeled by white ‘oppressors’. Of course there was much more to the story than the videotape, that story played out over the ensuing weeks, months, and even years.

However, the question remains, is the Rodney King story still the face of racism today? My thoughts are no. Racism has taken on a new face, one that has little to do with skin color and much more to do with social, economic, political and religious aspects. Given the current political climate it is not hard to imagine a young Muslim protester in Rodney King’s place.

When I think of the word and concept of Racism, my personal thesaurus comes up with words such as discrimination, segregation, integration, affirmative action, equality, apartheid, slavery, and many others.

I recently had the opportunity to read the debut novel of author Gary Bolick. Angel’s Oracle at first glance is simply a rather well written yarn about life in the deep south set in 1959. However when you strip the veneer away you find a very thought provoking exploration of the subject of racism. What becomes abundantly clear is that skin color has little to do with the subject of racism. Racism today has its roots buried in concepts far different from the mere color of your skin; roots that tap into ancient tribalism. One could postulate that racism is simply a virulent form of tribalism.

Gary Bolick chose the fictitious town of Angel, Mississippi as his backdrop. My wife and I happen to live in a small town in Mississippi and I have to admit that I do indeed see shades of Angel. I see a fractured community. The battle lines are varied, but very evident. Ethnicity is not a major player. Of much greater importance is tenure in the town, are you pre or post Katrina? Post Katrina residents are viewed as interlopers, fiddling with the town. Of equal importance is religious affiliations or lack there of.

Gary Bolick has graciously agreed to collaborate with me on exploring the subject of modern racism. In the coming weeks we will be taking a long hard look at what is going on in the world today. Our findings may be disturbing. But we feel that it is important to put our findings out in the open.

There is little doubt that is asked the question ‘are you racist’, almost everyone would say NO. However, if you ask more specific questions a different answer emerges.

Racism is a very strange arena. Often one that defies logic. The cable TV station BET is fine, but what would happen if someone was to propose WET TV? Watch the fur fly!

More on our new series soon.

Gary Bolick is the author of Angel’s Oracle,  a work of fiction that delves deeply into the roots of mankind’s seemingly unsolvable problem of simply getting along with his fellow man. Born in Pre-Civil Rights North Carolina, Bolick saw the difficult metamorphosis from Jim Crow to a fully integrated South. As a part of the court-ordered cross-bussing experiment he became a qualified witness to the cruel results of forced segregation, and the beginning of the long, slow turn to equal rights and integration. Quoting him,

“When an entire race is forced into a corner, it is striking, actually unsettling to suddenly realize that what has been taking place all these hundreds of years is a form of projection. One race, the white race, foisting its own self-loathing, its inner demons, if you will onto the closest, most available victim. Given a different set of circumstances that victim could have been any color–even white–that really is the point, the color does not matter. The most difficult question about racism is the one the individual never asks–himself. ‘Why am I so uncomfortable within my own skin?’  Paint him any color you choose, he’ll still hate–himself.”

Simon Barrett

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