Two recent events in Tennessee show that
racism is still alive, if not well, in the United States. In one
situation, James Hart, a self proclaimed “intellectual
outlaw” won the 8th Congressional District Republican
primary. Hart, among other things, advocates eugenics as a means of
preventing the nation from becoming “one big Detroit”
as a result of welfare and immigration policies that aid
“less favored races.” Of course, the district has
fielded a Democratic representative, John Tanner, for the last 16
years. In 2002, Tanner won re-election with 70 percent of the vote,
so it is unlikely that Hart will be elected to Congress. Even the
local Republican party is vehemently opposed to his candidacy,
running a write-in candidate at the last minute in an attempt to
defeat Hart, whom the local newspaper described as “odious,
disgraceful and racist.”

Mira Levitan

While Hart’s renegade candidacy can be dismissed as the
last gasp of past racism in the South, another event in Memphis
— part of which is represented by the congressional district
in question — is indicative of a new form of discrimination
in the post-Sept. 11 world. A delegation of Iraqis on a State
Department sponsored tour of the United States to learn about local
government tried to meet with Memphis City Councilwoman Carol
Chumney, only to be denied entry to City Hall. The council chair,
Joe Brown, claimed that the delegation posed a potential terrorist
threat, questioned whether the FBI had been informed of their visit
and reportedly threatened to evacuate the building and call in the
bomb squad if the group attempted to enter. What is disturbing in
this situation is that an elected official — not a fringe
candidate — is responsible.

In this case as well, the community has expressed outrage over
the incident, and apologies have been profuse. This is a positive
sign that social norms have shifted and that the vast majority of
society no longer tolerates racism. However, this does not mean
that racism and discrimination have ceased to exist. In a recently
completed survey of the large Arab-American and Chaldean population
in the Detroit metropolitan area, the University’s Institute
for Social Research found that 15 percent of respondents had
personally suffered a bad experience due to their ethnicity since
Sept. 11. These experiences ranged from verbal insults or targeting
by law enforcement to cases of physical assault. More than a
quarter said that someone in their family had been verbally
harassed since Sept. 11.

While these figures are a clear cause for concern, it is
heartening, however, that one-third of those surveyed reported that
they received support from non-Arabs after the attacks. Certainly,
our nation has reacted far better to the attacks on Sept. 11 than
it has to past attacks. Clearly, there have been no internment
camps for Arab-Americans, and various agencies — both
independent and governmental — have made a serious commitment
to interethnic and interreligious cooperation. Nonetheless, the ISR
report is still somewhat troubling, as it indicates that there
remain those who regard racism as a legitimate response to a
national tragedy. We must not become complacent in the face of
racist actions that occur in the present day. That the community as
a whole voices its disapproval is not comfort enough to those who
encounter racism.

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