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Readers discuss race relations in their towns

After Sen. Barack Obama's speech Tuesday in which he bluntly addressed anger between blacks and whites, we asked readers to participate in our Gut Check America project, in which we will explore Americans' views about the state of race relations.
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"Before you condemn Barack (Obama) based on the statements made by someone else look into your own family, your own circle of friends and look in the mirror at yourself.  How many times have you stood up for offensive language spoken out of turn.  Which one of your friends would you renounce publicly for humiliation? … What I believe Mr. Obama is saying is that it's way past time to take a stand against the injustice of any people.  Not just black.  Not just white but Mexicans, Asians, Hispanics, every hue of mankind on this earth.  To provide a fair playing field for woman. To allow every child the chance to achieve and contribute to this nation in a positive way in which we all benefit. Slavery wasn't abolished because black Americans had the power but because some white Americans saw and knew that this type of injustice was wrong and passed laws to make a difference."

— Tracy Watson, Cincinnati, Ohio

"My husband and I are college educated, white collar workers from multiracial backgrounds and we live across the street from a Nigerian born anesthesiologist. There are also three other (African American) families in our neighborhood, but it is predominantly a white suburban neighborhood. … We don't talk to our neighbors much about anything. We especially haven't opened dialogue about this sensitive issue. Just doesn't seem appropriate as we don't interact with them much on anything other than waving hello and goodbye. … I believe it's more because of the social isolation phenomenon than due to race division."

— Kelli Amaya, Williamstown, N.J.

"Both personal and institutionalized racism is becoming a more 'out' issue in our community as well as more nuanced and topic specific.  … Berkeley especially, but the San Francisco Bay Area in general, have an undeserved reputation for racial tolerance, inclusiveness, integration and social justice.  We cannot claim the most progress or status in those areas than some other parts of the country, though perhaps more than some others. There are terrible racial injustices in our communities which are more and more openly addressed by civic leaders, citizens, local media etc.  On the hopeful side, there are also ever increasing anti-racism and anti-white privilege groups and educational activities developing.  Also quite hopeful is an energized movement towards eco-justice and greening urban poor communities of color.  As a white person engaged in some of these progressive activities, I feel some small, burgeoning hope but we have a vast, long way to go for healing, justice and equality."

— M. Nemer, El Cerrito, Calif.

"Different races interact mostly out of necessity — in public, at work, commerce.  I find that socially, interaction is limited. Fights/incidents that occur happen because of ignorance, misinformation, prejudices that have been passed down in families and communities, of all races. If people would just talk to each other, they'd find out that we all want pretty much the same things out of life and our differences are merely figments perpetuated in culture and media."

— Tony Felicetti, Philadelphia

"I was in a biracial marriage which produced four children. … I was a single parent working two shifts as a RN and we lived in rural America, in a town of 140 people, and no one there had ever seen a person of color. I will tell you that we as a family struggled with many prejudices but we kept true and we have been here 35 years. Things have changed mostly for the better.  … There are still problems , but that is human nature , but no longer do people call my children the N word and many who did have apologized and have come to accept us for who we are. Believe me there is just a much prejudice in the black community as in the white community I have experienced both. You have to believe in yourself, and work hard and believe in God and you will come out better."

— Patricia Rooding,  Green, Kan.

“Our town is composed of approximately 90 percent Native Alaskan.  We like "our" white people, but seriously, as soon as they set foot on our land they do adopt a particular attitude of superiority.  They don't make an effort to associate with us; they won't invite us to their residences for socialization — it's almost as though they are afraid of us!  They certainly do not treat us as equals. So this is kind of a sore subject with me.  I have many friends who are white whose friendship was "made" elsewhere, and have all treated me with respect, courteously, deferentially, etc. But when the white teachers or medical staff come here as temporary residents, they don't do very well at all.  So I tend to resent all of them and distance myself from them all.  So, I am helping to perpetuate this cycle of un-socializing with the whites here.”

— Annette Cornelius, Metlakatla, Alaska

"I am an African American 30-something female who resides in a newly developed area about 30 miles south of Houston, Texas. The area that I reside in is racially mixed. America needs a "Dr. Phil moment"; both the black and white communities need to have civil dialogue about the racial issues that concern them. We need to come together with an open heart and discuss why both sides seem to feel the way that they do. We are afraid of each other; that's just what the powers that be want! If we really want to come together for the good of our future as a country, we need to talk about things that make us uncomfortable in regards to race. We don't have to agree with everything that each other says, but at least take the time out to listen with an open mind. If we really want to begin the healing process, then it is something that we MUST do, or else we are just fooling ourselves. As more and more people of color are becoming more upwardly mobile, race is becoming more and more important so that we can have a greater understanding of each other."

— K. Richardson, Fresno, Texas

"Seattle is a predominantly white community, but does have a growing black population due to immigrants from Somalia and other African countries. When I was raised in the Midwest, there was no real racial tension. There were occasional overt racist acts that were immediately condemned by the society. Today I see racial minorities attributing some treatment to racism when it should really be attributed to rude behavior.  For instance, a black mother of a high school student attributed lack of attention from the high school principal as an example of organizational racism.  I laughed because they're just as non-responsive to me, a white male.  Today, while racism certainly exists, there are so many cases where a racial minority simply attributes bad treatment to the color of their skin.  …  Today, with all of the affirmative action initiatives and lawyers happy to sue, I've seen more cases where a racial minority gets special treatment than bad treatment.  I have other examples where my minority friends have received special treatment that makes them feel uncomfortable too.  But I've also witnessed racist behavior that causes my blood to boil — just not that much anymore."

— Dan Nelson, Seattle

“I would really like to address Joe Scarborough's comments  about what whites "whisper about race around the dining room table" — as if this racist discourse only exists in private contexts.  White racism is very public,  because they are so sure they are right! Whites — some are friends, others are not — have been telling me to my face for years and years that they think I got hired because I'm black, got that scholarship because I'm black, etc. This is not at the dinner table, but out in the public. Thank God, it’s good to know what people really do think. Here in Louisville, I guess the biggest fights have been over busing and the realignment of the political boundaries of the city and county, which had the impact of diluting the black vote.”

— Yvonne V. Jones, Louisville, Ky.

“I personally think that racism here is still in existence, but in a more subtle manner. For example, we can all drink from the same water fountain, that does not mean that personal attitudes have changed. Tensions are mostly due to law enforcement issues in the community. I have been here since 1982, and it seems … (that when) there is a problem among the black citizens it is due to some activity by the law enforcement.”

— Sally Ann Lozano, Boca Raton, Fla.

“We live in a state where Hispanics are the majority minority group.  We have seen subtle forms of discrimination against Hispanics for as long as I can remember.  We Hispanics do not trust the whites or the blacks, because they both take care of their own. … This has been apparent in the Democratic presidential election, where the blacks support Obama by over 90 percent.  If Obama is nominated by the Democrats, I as a loyal Hispanic will have a very difficult decision: Do I support a white man or a black man?  Either person will not help the Hispanic population. I personally feel that America is not ready for a black president.”

— James Sweeney, Sun Lakes, Ariz.