I'm a somewhat black person living in America. And when I say "somewhat," I don't mean 'cause I like, totally act like a white girl and stuff. I mean because I'm half white. But we all know that if you have even a little bit of black in you, the white is canceled out in the eyes of most. See Harry Reid's comments regarding Obama and the negro dialect as exhibit A.
That said, I've also had the good fortune to grow up in areas that were pretty unconcerned with the whole race thing. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I grew up in northern towns that were made up almost completely of white people, and therefore having a black person or two around wasn't really a threat. People tend to get a lot more racist when they feel that their power is threatened. See where I live now as exhibit B.
Southern California is racist. One of my professors recently claimed that SoCal did not have ethnic enclaves like that silly ol' racially divided east coast. I didn't know how to respond to that, because it is categorically untrue. I mean, not just kind of a stretch, but blatantly false to anyone who has ever been to Irvine, Santa Ana, L.A., or anywhere else in this part of the state. Up until my freshman year of college, I couldn't have told you a single stereotype about Mexicans. I didn't know that Asians were supposed to be bad drivers. I had never seen someone get pulled over for being the wrong color in a white neighborhood. Needless to say, my eyes have been opened to all of these things.
I'm not trying to say that Greenfield, MA or Mill Valley, CA are completely without racists. I remember being in the cafeteria when I was in third grade when a girl who I was barely acquainted with said to me, "No offense, but my dad says you're a n*****r." Um... none taken? But really, I don't even think I knew to be offended. I'd never heard the word before. I remember thinking something along the lines of, "Gosh, her dad's stupid. He can't even pronounce the word 'negro.'"
So, sure. Racism's all over the place. But it's the places that think they've got something to lose by accepting the minority that really know how to dish it out. I think we're seeing that more than ever right now, with the whole black president thing we've got goin' on these days. With the tea partiers making all kinds of fun, racially charged statements, and political figures - both Republican and Democrat - saying some pretty ignorant stuff, it is incredibly apparent that there are those in the white population who are beginning to feel a bit threatened. We see a lot of it happening amongst the poorer and less educated whites because, well, being white is about all they've got going for them. They may not be high up on the totem pole, but at least they're not [insert undesirable racial background here].
Most Americans have some skewed views of other races buried somewhere in them. These things come out in jokes or in their surprise when someone doesn't live up to their preconceived stereotypes. It's more a product of our socialization than an active desire to discriminate against people who are different from us. As such, most Americans also have come to a point where they don't harbor ill-feelings toward people based on their race. They may think that you should stay off the road or that you enjoy Kool-Aid more than you do, but they don't think you're going to mug them or that you should sit at the back of the bus.
Thus, a part of me wonders if we're seeing racism's last stand; the desperate attempts of those who are seeing power slip away from them to say, "Hey, wait guys! Remember how we're inherently better, and other races are stupid and invasive and stuff! C'mon!" It looks dire. We're hearing nasty things being said and seeing ridiculously bigoted acts carried out by individuals all over the country, but the mere fact that these incidents are a big deal says something about how far we've come. Where once we wouldn't have batted an eyelid over Reid's statement, we're now tearing apart Dan Rather's completely innocuous comment about selling watermelon to find some sort of racist undertone.
As I've said before, I'm not so naive as to grab hold of this "post-racial America" thing that people like to dream is happening. I don't know if that's ever going to happen. I do think, though, that the recent burst in racism is a reaction to the fact that racist people are seeing their power slip away. Americans aren't standing for it anymore. The social order is being challenged, and, despite our silly prejudices, as a collective group, we don't accept that anyone is inferior based on their race anymore. Yeah, there will always be racists. But the time in which we let them get away with spouting it in public without consequences is coming to an end.