A little more than a week ago, Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore declared the end of racism in America during a hearing over a voter identification bill.
“We're in 2015 and we have a, a black president, in case anyone didn't notice. So, the color and the race issue; I think it's time that we put that to rest,” Fiore said.
After that statement, critics ridiculed the Republican assemblywoman from Las Vegas. Many people blasted the lawmaker because they feel racism is more prevalent now than in years past.
Defenders have said that her comments were taken out of context.
But those who dispute her conclusion point to the violent protests that came after the officer-involved shooting death of unarmed black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York as proof of the continued racial divide.
Yvette Williams, chairwoman of the Clark County Black Caucus, told KNPR’s State of Nevada that it wasn’t just the words that Fiore used but the tone in her voice.
“There seemed to be a distain in her voice that was very strong and in my opinion, reflective of someone who is uncomfortable speaking about the subject,” Williams said.
Williams said there are examples all over place that racism still exists from the University of Oklahoma fraternity caught on camera yelling a racist chant to a Justice Department report documenting racism in the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department.
“I can’t deal with covert racism where it’s under the table, it’s on the sly, where we have policies that disenfranchise one group from another,” Williams said.
Pastor Robert Fowler with the Victory Mission Baptist Church said it wasn’t her words that bothered him as much as her conclusion.
“The conclusion that this country has no problem when it comes to race. To be so, matter of fact. That this is a position that everyone should take is astounding to me,” Fowler said.
Fowler said a lot of progress has been made on race relations in this country but racism still exists.
“We absolutely have to re-engage the conversation because in the corners and the shadows and alleys of our country and in the corners and shadows and alleys of our hearts racism still exists,” Fowler said.
UNLV sociologist Robert Futrell said although he is disappointed by her comments, he is not surprised.
“The fact is race continues to be one of, if not, the pivotal point of conflict in America,” Futrell said.
Futrell said that after President Barack Obama was elected some commentators said that America had moved into a post-racial era. However, the clashes over use of force by police in just the past year show a different story.
“These show that we are far from a post-racial country,” Futrell said.
Director of UNLV’s Afro-American Studies Rainier Spencer said racism isn’t over it has morphed into something different than the state-supported racism seen 50 years ago at the time of the march from Selma to Montgomery.
“It’s now much more diffused and much more structural,” Spencer said.
He said the criminal justice system is a perfect example of how racism still exists in the country. He pointed to the studies that show that during traffic stops black young men are more likely to get tickets than white young men.
“What we need to be concerned about are the less powerful people who don’t have the kind of position I have,” Spencer said.
Williams said in the end it is about engaging with people of different groups and backgrounds to understand them better.
Fowler believes ending racism is really about changing hearts.
“This country is better than mistreating people simple because their skin color is different,” Fowler said.
Yvette Williams, chairwoman, Clark County Black Caucus; Robert Fowler, pastor, Victory Missionary Baptist Church; Rainier Spencer, associate vice provost for academic affairs, UNLV, director, Afro-American Studies; Robert Futrell, professor of sociology, UNLV
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