Amidst the fanfare of celebrating the praiseworthy life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I challenge our community to engage seriously the racial past, present and future of our country. In that spirit, I offer my own reflections.

But, “Who cares about race anymore, didn’t we solve that problem 40 years ago?” While many assert and believe such disingenuous half-truths of a reformed, non-racist United States, Hurricane Katrina, the seeming lack of commitment to the Voting Rights Act (certain provisions of which expire in 2007) and school re-segregation, among many other developments, are but prophetic signs that pale in comparison to what will be a long and difficult U.S. racial storm of gargantuan proportions. I do not write as the prophet of pessimistic doom; I only detect the signs of trouble and want to make sure our levees are firm enough in place to help us hold off the inevitable storm coming upon our American racial sea.

If the U.S. Census Bureau’s demographic predictions for 2050 are correct, in our lifetime, whites, especially white males, may have to adjust to being a racial minority not only in terms of political representation but also with the changing U.S. cultural norms and values. There will be new agenda setters: the U.S. Senate of that future day will look very different. There will be many more minority senators like Barak Obama and Mel Martinez. Yet if whites remain the economic majority and are able to maintain significant power notwithstanding an overwhelming set of minority groups, this could create a picture very similar to that of South Africa before Mandela’s election (and debatably even today), save the de jure apartheid.

Moreover, the growth in the number of Hispanic citizens and immigrants is going to dramatically reshape American politics and culture – linguistically and socially – and will challenge existing norms. Fear of Hispanic cultural hegemony is most eloquently expressed in Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington’s recent book: “Who Are We?” While he is a radical right-wing, super patriotic, hyper-nationalist intellectual, be assured he does not write without a faithful and believing following.

Tensions within and between minority groups and the white poor will escalate. Blacks have become used to significant political power and attention as the largest minority group in the United States, having led a revolutionary civil rights movement with notable results. Just look at the size of the Congressional Black Caucus, the large number of black mayors of major U.S. cities and the bountiful offspring of African-American studies created through student protests. However, we need only look to our own university to observe the growing challenge of developing ethnic studies programs! After years of discussion, Georgetown administrators finally approved an African Studies minor in 2004, but efforts to promote and expand ethnic studies programs have in general yielded few results.

On the national level, previously all “black” political districts created through legal gerrymandering are increasingly becoming districts where the Hispanic population is equaling the Blacks. Political and cultural representation will change substantially, leading to very difficult relations both at the poll and in the academy between declining and rising minority groups.

These changes in race relations are not comparable to the 100-year-plus post-Reconstruction history of black-white integration that has yet to be achieved – in fact, that is retrenching. Further, as race-conscious affirmative action programs wane in favor of more neutral, marketable alternatives and low-skilled jobs continue to be deported overseas to exploit colored peoples in their own backyard, poor whites, blacks, and Hispanics will fight and struggle in unprecedented ways for the crumbs of benevolence that fall from the master’s table.

Lastly, gentrification is causing a reversed “white flight” of “chocolate cities and vanilla suburbs” and renewing intra-racial class divisions, as Princeton Professor Cornel West discusses in his book, “Race Matters.” Whether it’s Washington, D.C., Chicago, Harlem or another haven of black and Hispanic influence, capitalism is flapping its wings in urban centers at a speed that is pushing many black and Hispanic poor people into the suburbs. What becomes then of the Prince George’s county or South Shore suburbs of Chicago that were once the black middle-class retreats from the inequalities of yesteryear?

Middle-class blacks and Hispanics who escaped the ghettos by joining the “white flight” to the suburbs are now experiencing a loss in property value and an increase in crime, causing them to be in opposition to the growing presence of poor minorities. Where did the riots in Paris happen? The suburbs! It is difficult for suburban areas in America – which are becoming increasingly more urban like the Parisian suburbs – to manage the communities that are moving there. These are training grounds for militancy, crime and racial and class alienation.

The aforementioned analysis of U.S. race relations barely scratches the surface. Space does not allow me to expound on the growing “Islamophobia,” persisting racial targeting and enduring racially-biased laws that cast a dark shadow over our land of freedom and equality. From within the veil, I am led to the conclusion that a unique racial storm – grounded in socioeconomics – is upon us. Inspired by Dr. King, we must prepare to be leaders, bridge builders, peacemakers and long-sufferers. America is counting on us; its future, its hope, its redemption.

William Godwin is a junior in the College.

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