msnbc.com
updated 4/4/2008 3:50:43 AM ET 2008-04-04T07:50:43

With race relations playing a key part in the national discussion surrounding this year's presidential election, we have asked readers to participate in a Gut Check America project that will explore Americans' views on the topic. Here are some excerpts from the hundreds of reader responses we have received through Thursday. You also can click on the red link below to participate.

I'm, 35, black, unemployed, living at home with my parents because the economy is so bad. I'm afraid to leave because the job market is uncertain and after my last two jobs I'm becoming bitter and becoming that angry black man that people always talk about. I love people of all races and always tried to understand people of other races but the love from them is not the same. Truthfully, I'm at my wits' end because if I'm educated and an honest person who works hard can't find employment due to no lack of skills but my race, then why not sell drugs or turn to a convenient way of earning a living? My credit cards are maxed out and I need dental surgery which I can't afford. Tell me what I can do when people don't look at the work that you do but the color of your skin?

—Fredrick Kennedy, Jackson, Miss.

I live in Los Angeles so there is little to say about racial makeup. I believe, however, that the blacks in our society are still burdened with an identity crisis that to this day has not been resolved. Example: As a probation officer for Los Angeles County in 1969, we were required to fill in the required blanks as to ethnic origin. In 1969, the ethnic origin was "Negro." In the 1970s it was "Black." Today it is "African-American." Among whites, who cares if you're Irish, German, French, etc.? It doesn't matter. Among African-Americans, it is still a problem of clarification. Consider Barack Obama. Is he half black? Half white? Not white enough, not black enough? Obviously our nation is not color blind and racism is alive and well.

—John Mayer, Los Angeles, Calif.

I live in St. Louis. There is a big divide between the races here. I feel this is the heartbeat of America in the Midwest. Blacks will never get the same breaks no matter what type of job they have because it is the American way to hate and forget. We will never be equal. We will never be accepted. It shows its head here daily. As it does across America.

—W.R. Moore, St. Louis, Mo.

I have had a mixed reaction, no pun intended, since moving to the U.S. in September 2007. I come from the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago where race doesn't really matter. We're a multiracial and cultural country. We appreciate and celebrate each others' cultures and religions. I am of East Indian heritage but identify solely as being Trinidadian. I moved to this country because I married an American. My husband is as white as you can get. He's 6'2" and has green eyes. Since I've been here in the U.S. I've been subjected to racist comments that I have never heard before in my own country. I never had a problem with anyone before and still don't but I am very aware that people have a problem with me because of what they perceive me to be. I may be of East Indian decent but I am also mixed which means I can pass for Hispanic. People come up to me and start speaking Spanish to me all the time because of it ... no big deal. What I do not appreciate is why is it considered freedom of speech for a white woman to call me "Indian trash" and for me to be insulted to my face and be told that I'm a mail order bride who's only here for her green card. Why am I called ugly because of my race? Why can a white woman look at me and insult my physical features and say that she is better than me because she's white? Trust me I have a better job than she does ... she works as a waitress in a bar. I work for a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C. I have a degree and am almost finished with my MBA and all she has is a high school diploma. In a court, I was told by a judge that it's her right to call me nappy haired (now mind you, if you see me you would understand how ludicrous that is) because she's entitled to free speech. I thought that it was a crime to spew racial hatred. My thought was, well, at least if you're going to insult me, be intelligent enough to use the correct racial epitaph. That's the least that I could ask for, right? I think that a person of color as president could either unite this country or drive people even further apart. It all depends on the policies of the person. Corrective action has to be measured and gradual but one thing I would love to happen is that racial intolerance and spewing racial hatred under the guise of freedom of speech be stopped. I am tired of being condescended to because I'm not white. No one is better than me because of their color and I am not better than anyone because of my color either. I am me, a person devoid of color.

—Tricia Saladeen Steel, Bowie, Md.

The black people in this country are by far more a racist problem than any other ethnic group. Their preachers talk about hating the white people and they preach it to their congregations on Sundays. This is according to Rev. Wright and his so-called follower Obama. These are not my words but the words of Obama himself. If this is what's being taught in this country, then we have a serious problem. Attitudes must be changed. Stop complaining and taking, taking, taking and start giving back a little. Enough is enough. When you see a perfectly healthy black man 25 years old on the news asking where is his money (talking about his government check that the working people of this country are having to pay for) that is a few days late, while he is living in the Marriot Hotel free (for over a year), then would you not say "Houston, we have a problem?"

—Vince Burns, Houston, Texas

I am so angry that an African-American, 28-year-old male teacher, in San Antonio, Fla., received 23 years in prison for having sex with a 13-year-old student while many white, female teachers get little to no time for the same crime. Sexual abuse by teachers should be punished; however, the blatant racism and sexism of this sentence is an outrage. My guess is there are other examples of this around the country.

—Jann McHollan, Tampa, Fla.

Like all communities around the world, my town is composed of many ethnicities, but only one human race. It is critical to accurately distinguish between ethnicity and race so that all people can embrace their common genetic bond as one species of Homo sapiens. The misuse of "race," even in this MSNBC coverage, is unintentionally divisive and must be corrected.

—Thomas Mollner, Lake View Terrace, Calif.

I live in San Diego, Calif. I must say that the Hispanic population is horrible here. There is a city called Chula Vista that is one of the largest cities in San Diego and it is basically ALL Mexican. It is a serious issue here because Mexicans have totally changed once predominatly black or Asian communities. They have neighborhoods that are all Mexican and stores that pertain to their culture with the Mexican flag hanging high instead of also sharing the American flag so proudly. I mean this is the country that so many of them are eventually going to take over within the next three decades. It gets very frustrating that my child is one of the three African-American children in his pre-school out of 35 Mexican kids. It upsets me that our health-care system is flooded with illegals and that it is almost impossible to get a job here because a lot of places now have to "cater to the majority," which is Hispanic. ... This is not brought to light here in San Diego because people only see it as a beautiful city. There is a serious issue here that needs to be delt with. California is making it so easy for an illegal to not have to worry about not being a legal citizen in this state.

—Ashley Smith, San Diego, Calif.

My despair is in the fact that too many white Americans do not want to allow black Americans to express their true feelings about the past history of the black people in this nation.

—Grace Minns-Atkins, Riviera Beach, Fla.

There is one black family in my immediate neighborhood. They are very good neighbors and their kids are very respectful. The gentleman and I get along quite well. We do nothing socially except attend the same church where he teaches one of the classes. He is from Trinidad and is quite well-educated. I personally like the family and chat periodically with the older son, about 17. I am from NewOrleans and was the only white kid in my neighborhood. I mingled with the black community there quite well and had several black friends. I think that experience helped me understand, to some extent, the plight of the black community. I have developed the opionion that, to a large extent, some of the leaders of the black community do very little for their fellows and espouse hate speach against the white community. The latest example, of course, is Mr. Wright, Mr. Obama's mentor. I have nothing at all against Mr. Obama except that he is a very liberal Democrat and I find it hard to believe that such a smooth-talker could embrace Mr. Wright's hate rhetoric. I am also disappointed in his wife that has found it so hard to find anything she likes about this country. I have no hatred for the Obamas but do think they should feel proud of a country that has given them the opportunity to have such an upscale life style. Often, some of the black community, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice as a couple of prime examples, actually stand up and try to set the example for their community. And some, like Bill Cosby, not only set a shining example but also tries to speak to his fellow blacks only to get derided and booed off the stage. I heard it said recently that when a people feel they are owed something they tend to sit back and wait till they get something. When a people feel they have to, will and can succeed on their own, they tend to excel. If the black community would stop listening to and embracing the numerous hate-mongers and start counting on themselves to make their way in life, I feel certain they would find a very nice life. I think Mrs. Obama should sit back and count the number of black millionaires, including her and her husband. Then maybe, somewhere down deep, she might be able to conjur up some appreciation for this country.

—Bill Sipes, Salt Lake City, Utah

What gives me the greatest hope is the real possiblity of a first African American president. The message to the international community local community as well will be one of a changing America. With a subsequent election of Obama would present young African American males with the ultimate role model that would fuel a new and better belief in themselves and their own possibilities for a better life and more involvement in their community.

—George Streat, Snellville, Ga.

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